Mountain Healing

Geoff Roes finds happiness in a return to mountain exploration thanks to improving health.

By on February 13, 2013 | Comments

I’ve been largely unable to run for six months. There were times in the beginning when I seriously doubted whether I would ever run again. Not whether or not I would ever want to run again, but if I would ever regain my health enough to be able to run at all. When you are sick and are getting a little worse each day, it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. When you get a little worse for several weeks in a row it’s easy to imagine that you may never get better, that each successive week will spiral a little lower and a little darker. This was my mindset for much of August and September. It feels really dramatic to think of it now, but there were certainly more than a few days in which I felt I would never regain even as much of my “normal” health as I now have.

One thing that kept coming back to me in the midst of these dark moments was the fear that I might never again get to go off and wander through the mountains looking for new peaks, new ridges, and new experiences. I’ve run enough in my life that I feel I could live without running, but I’m not sure I’ve explored remote mountain ranges enough to feel I could live without more exploration. Exploring deep into the mountains has only been the primary focus of my running for three or four years, and I feel like I want so much more. I want to be in the mountains everyday if my body allows it.

Throughout much of these past six months I have felt almost haunted by the last real mountain run I did before I was too sick to continue. It was my last weekend in Alaska this past summer and it was one of those perfect runs: tons of vertical, amazing views, almost entirely off trail, lots of ice and snow travel, crossing crevasses. Essentially a mini-mountaineering trip disguised as an eight-hour “run.” It was a new route that I had never done, and an outing that just happened without thinking too much about it. We just went out into the mountains with no idea what we would find, and ended up finding more than we possibly knew existed.

I’ve thought about this outing nearly everyday these past six months, but it wasn’t until this past week that I realized just how much I missed all of it. This is because I was finally able to get a small taste of this again.

I was back in Alaska last week for a short visit, continuing to feel ever so slightly stronger and healthier. I’m still a long way from 100%, but I’m 100 times stronger than I was in September. On Thursday, my health and the weather came together and I found myself out on a mountain ridge above Juneau with no real plan, no real destination, but with an eagerness to push on, to explore. It wasn’t anywhere near the most ambitious outing I’ve ever done. Certainly not the most scenic either, but in this particular circumstance it turned into the most uplifting, encouraging, and emotional day I have likely ever spent in the mountains. I was so overcome by just how easy and simple it all was. My body cooperated and all I had to do was keep moving along, and with each step came more enjoyment, more confidence, and more beauty.

Juneau photo 1

In reality this was one small step forward of hundreds that I have needed to take to get to where I am. In my soul, though, this may have been the most I have ever grown in one day. I was really tired, and even a bit sore later that day, but now, several days later, I can still feel the strength, the warmth, and the health in my body. I know I have a long road toward health still ahead of me, but having removed the question of whether I would ever again be able to go off into the mountains and explore in this manner has boosted my mind, my spirit, and my body more than anything else throughout this process.

Juneau photo 2

I know I will never again take any of this for granted. I will refuse to stick to the same old thing. I want new trails, new mountains, new experiences – even when I’m traveling in a land I’ve been a thousand times before. It’s these new perspectives that open up the space for us to move into the place we’ve always wanted to occupy, even if we never knew it existed.

Juneau mountain photo 4

I have no idea when I’ll have the opportunity and the health to go out in the mountains in this manner again (Hopefully this week!), but I do know that I will have a huge smile on my face and a huge warmth in my soul when I do.

Juneau photo 3

Geoff Roes
Geoff Roes has set numerous ultramarathon course records including the Western States and Wasatch 100 milers. Salomon, Clif, Drymax, Ryders Eyewear, and Atlas Snowshoes all support Geoff's running. You can read more about his running on his blog Fumbling Towards Endurance and join him at his Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps.