In Gratitude I Remain

[Editor’s Note: Are you thankful for what iRunFar has provided you in 2019? If so, please consider showing your gratitude by supporting us financially as we head into 2020.]

I run down Taylor Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, tucked in a couple stride lengths behind my friend Melissa Beaury. She sets the pace and I match it, mirroring her footfalls into the good places to put one’s feet. Around us, layer-cake rock walls of yellow, rust, and red lift toward the sky. From one side of the canyon the winter-solstice sun shines, though not exactly warm-feeling in its low-angle arc and through a filter of high, thin clouds.

The moment is breathtaking. That is, the feelings inside of my heart well up into my throat and my breath literally escapes me. I am overcome with a white-hot, fiery feeling of gratitude, for a place filled with only the wild, for friendship, for physical health, for all the luck I’ve experienced and choices I’ve made which have brought me to right here, right now.

That moment last weekend induced in me a couple days of active reflection about this year. In that time, I’ve concluded that, quite simply, there is too much to love about 2019. So much good has happened that I can’t begin to contemplate it in bulk. But I can reflect on, feel grateful for, and share with you a few of the year’s most stellar moments.

Through near randomness and without much temporal warning, I found myself in Bekoji, Ethiopia for 11 days in January to observe Girls Gotta Run’s girls and young women. Girls Gotta Run is a nonprofit organization which sponsors the running, academic, and life development of girls and young women in Bekoji, what is sometimes referred to as Ethiopia’s endurance capital. In admiration of the program and its girls, I wrote about the experience several times on iRunFar (dispatch 1, dispatch 2, dispatch 3, dispatch 4, and a feature story), but I’m still yet to fully process all that I observed, what I learned, and what I do next with what I know now.

The girls of Girls Gotta Run warming up before a track workout in Bekoji, Ethiopia. All photos iRunFar/Meghan Hicks unless otherwise noted.

In March, I had the privilege of spending seven days at the Bivouac Ahansal in the Moroccan Sahara Desert, which is owned by famed Moroccan endurance runner Mohamad Ahansal. There is no WIFI and you have to climb the high sand dune at the edge of the bivouac to get cell service. While I’d done most of my week’s work in advance, I kept the cogs of the iRunFar engine turning by climbing up the sand dune with my phone and computer for about an hour each morning and evening. The rest of the time, I ran in the sand dunes and on the salt flats, watched the den of a desert fox to see if I could get a glimpse of it, drank tea and talked with Mohamad and his friends and family who together operate the outpost, watched sunrises and sunsets, and let my mind wander. Living with no external distraction is a true rarity in 2019, and Bivouac Ahansal provided this.

Last light on the sand at Bivouac Ahansal.

In May, the snow finally started to melt up the slopes of the San Juan Mountains, outside of Silverton, Colorado where I lived for half of this year, enough to explore via foot instead of skis. The prior winter had been a huge one, one of the largest in the region’s recorded history, and an especially incredible storm and natural avalanche cycle took place in March. Snow and debris raged off the mountains and deposited in the valleys during that time, coming to rest in piles so deep they didn’t melt before this winter came around again. I don’t think I’d seen such tangible evidence of nature’s strength before, and so my May running became a moving meditation on the sometimes unyielding power of nature.

Into the snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

In early September and immediately following a particularly busy three-week stretch of work and travel, my friend Eszter Horanyi and I took a two-day fastpacking trip to see some new-to-us scenery and climb a few mountains. We slept for our night out on a tundra platform, which overlooked a spectacular alpine lake and loomed in the shadow of some imposing mountains. It was somewhere around 12,000 feet altitude–above treeline–and a chilly evening on the edge of fall. We watched the sun set while wrapped up in sleeping bags, my legs heavy with the day’s running and hiking. As twilight descended, my innards unwound and I un-trenched from the mental and physical efforts of the last weeks of work. Nature healed me.

A night of fastpacking in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

That same month but a few weeks later, I ran the Bear 100 Mile with the crewing, pacing, and friendship of Melissa Beaury and Vince Heyd. Crewing and pacing are funny things. I’d argue that we ultrarunners shouldn’t need them. If we can run and hike uber-long distances, then surely we can also fill our own water bottles, be comfortable by ourselves in the night, and find whatever motivation we need inside of ourselves. But I also love crewing and pacing people I care about, and I love the luxury of my friends and family doing the same for me. Crewing and pacing can be expressions of care and love and it was magical to be surrounded by the good energy of my friends that weekend.

Vince Heyd, Melissa Beaury, and I after they crewed and paced me at the Bear 100 Mile.

In July, Bryon Powell and I celebrated getting married with a small group of family and friends at our home in the mountains outside of Moab, Utah. Summer is monsoon season in the western U.S., and so our outdoor party was graced with a storm. As we ate dinner, the storm chased us all under a large porch. Soon the rain eased to a mist and the bank of clouds broke enough to let beams from the setting sun shine across the landscape. First, a single rainbow formed and a little while later it grew into a double rainbow, which held its place and presided over our party for around a half hour. Into the mist, with the sunset, and under the rainbows we all went to watch and celebrate our love and shared life. It was unreal and unforgettable, and in gratitude I remain for that evening with my husband, my mom and brother, my family and friends, and Mother Nature.

Call for Comments

  • What moments of 2019 will you remember with gratitude?
  • Can you share the story of a time you were overwhelmed with gratefulness?

Bryon and I’s unforgettable wedding party. Photo: Tom Sasinowski

Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.