In a Rut

Zach Miller writes about getting out of a rut and charting a new course for himself.

By on March 18, 2022 | Leave a reply

This coming June will mark two years since I left my longtime job as a caretaker at Barr Camp, the remote mountain refuge seven miles up the famous Barr Trail for folks venturing up and down Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

When I left, I had ideas of what my life might look like moving forward, but as is often the case, I had no way of knowing for sure. Back then, the COVID-19 pandemic was just getting started. We hoped it would soon be over, but as some had suggested and as we now know, we were far from the end. It was during these uncertain times that I packed my things and ran off the mountain.

Barr Camp in Colorado in winter

Barr Camp in Colorado in the winter. All photos courtesy of Zach Miller.

I’ve never shared much about my run down the mountain that day. I’m not sure there are words that would do it justice. What I can say is it was emotional. In short, I’m glad that I was alone and the trail was quiet.

I had spent the hours leading up to that run putting the finishing touches on my final project at camp. It had taken longer than expected and I was stressed because I was supposed to meet my friends in town for a celebratory dinner.

When I rolled into Memorial Park in Manitou Springs that evening, I found my friends in the gazebo. Brandon, Melissa, and Sam had been there for who knows how long, waiting patiently for me to arrive. It was a true sign of friendship, and I’m not sure they’ll ever understand how much it meant to me.

We sat in that gazebo and ate. I doubt anyone’s food was still warm. Yet, it was a good meal, one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Afterward, we walked to Matt Carpenter’s custard shop where we ate dessert and chatted with Matt. Then we called it a night and went home.

I spent a few more days in the area, and then packed up my truck and drove east to Pennsylvania where I am originally from. In the months that followed, I bought a short bus, started building it out, tried to heal my stubborn foot and ankle injury, failed to do so, pulled the trigger on Haglund’s deformity surgery, and started the long road to recovery.

In the midst of these changes, I kept in contact with a friend I had made while caretaking at Barr Camp. Rachel and her son Orrin were complete strangers when I first met them, but after I shared a piece of banana bread with Orrin on his birthday and they continued stopping by camp on their treks up and down the mountain, we quickly became friends. After I left Barr Camp, Rachel texted me and shared that we never want to get too comfortable in life, suggesting that my recent change of pace was a good thing.

As I look back at the past two years, I’ve done a lot of new-to-me things. I built out my bus and learned a lot of new skills along the way. I drove clear across the country and started training in a new place. I learned to skate ski. I took up gravel biking. I started training twice a day on the daily. I read books and questioned things that for years I felt so set on. I met new people and enjoyed new places. It’s been pretty neat.

Zach Miller skate skiing

Zach Miller skate skiing.

And yet, at the same time, it’s been challenging. There is uncertainty in the new. I’ve missed familiar faces and old stomping grounds. Sure, I’ve kept in touch and made visits, but it’s not the same as being rooted in those places. And yet, Rachel was right. Getting too comfortable is dangerous.

It’s like skiing or biking on rutted trails. The ruts are there because others have made them. Though they set a course, it’s not always the right one for us. And getting stuck in them can be downright scary. They grab ahold of our wheel or our ski and aggressively direct us in their direction. But where they want to go is not necessarily where we want to go.

A trail can do the same. Though it may be smooth and free of ruts, it still encourages a certain direction of travel. At times the guidance is good, but if followed for too long, it becomes a hindrance. And if traveled long enough, it too becomes a rut.

The funny thing about a rut is that as scary as it may feel, leaving it can feel even more frightening. As a result, many of us stay in it, but eventually, the speed becomes too great or a corner too sharp, and we wreck.

The solution is to simply lift your foot, ski, or wheel, and leave the rut. But that initial move is scary. If we can do it, however, we can avoid the crash and set out on a new path.

Zach Miller skate skiing 2

Zach keeps it light as he forges a new path for himself in skate skiing.

As I look both forward and back, I’m grateful for the steps I’ve been able to take. The path I was on at Barr Camp was not a bad one. There are still times when I think about returning to it, but removing myself from that space has allowed me to grow.

Perhaps you’re in a similar spot. Maybe you’ve done the same thing for years. You long for change but are fearful of it. You just can’t get yourself to remove your foot from its current path. If this is you, remember Rachel’s words, pick up your foot, and start something new. Who knows, you might like what you find!

Call for Comments

What life or running ruts have you previously had to escape? Can you share a little about the process for you?

Snow and skin track scenery

Scenery on the skin track.

Zach Miller
Zach Miller lives in a school bus he outfitted himself. 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.