Mountains On My Mind

Self-consciously, I shift over in my seat, moving towards the aisle, away from the woman sitting to my right on the bus. She looks clean and smells of perfume. I look and smell quite the opposite, visibly marked by a full day of travel. My groggy, uncomfortable demeanor is intensified by thorn-bush cuts all over my arms from a recent off-trail foray in the California mountains, glistening from sweat in the stuffy air. I feel a slight malaise from lack of sleep with one too many cups of coffee adding angst and jitters to the situation. Traveling has its pluses and minuses with a day like this reminding me of the more unpleasant aspects of a trip. The fleeting looks of disapproval of my outward appearance from other passengers have me shifting my focus inwardly to more pleasing thoughts. Specifically, I think of the white-capped Indian Peaks that dominate the horizon west of my home as the mountains come into sight.

Travel, whether it is bipedal or not, shares many similarities with running. Often, I initiate a trip with the desire to explore and discover a new place. My first thoughts associated with a novel area are typically of curiosity and wonder. Practicalities and logistics come second, so for a time, travel sounds like nothing but a pleasant experience. However, the reality of undertaking any journey, even with modern-day conveniences, usually comes with a certain amount of struggle. When I think of mountain exploration, I dismiss thoughts of strife linked to the elements or distance. My imagination is heavily slanted towards the positive. Tangibly though, running is not quite as idyllic. Even the easiest outing can be accompanied with discomfort, yet learning to accept how to work through difficulty, to tolerate one’s condition with calm and poise has tremendous value. I find my escape in my love for the mountains. I let their shapes, routes, and stories occupy my mind. When in the mountains, I let the elements take over my senses. Love gives one the ability to see all that is.

From the bus station, I walk to my truck in the mid-afternoon sun. The flatirons stand proud, melting snow glistening in the warm light on their flanks. I drive slowly up Sunshine Canyon, staring more at the wispy, curious cloud patterns above Sugarloaf than the road. I pull into the driveway and dog greets me with her usual overzealous excitement. She tears around in circles by the spruce trees and shed, suggesting that a run might be in order. Despite, a general feeling of apathy and fatigue, I oblige. We head north onto some hidden, snow-packed singletrack. My feet, calves, and hips ache. The spice of hot salsa from the burrito eaten on the drive home stings my throat. My breathing is labored, my stride heavy, and my head foggy, but it feels good to just exist in the thin mountain air. Running and training, just like travel, come with many ups and downs such as these. I do not care much, though. I am content to just be, ignoring discomfort and shortcomings for the simple contact with the mountains.

Gradually, I start to shake the day and fatigue out of my body, pulling from the splendor of my surroundings. My running quickens and becomes less constrained, more suited to the rolling path ahead. My steps change from strained to playful and light. Little by little, my mind relaxes, thought subsides, and only movement exists. Dog moves gracefully ahead, smelling constantly, following invisible tracks, locked into her instincts. Occasionally, she shoots back furtive looks as if to validate that we are on the right track while I run aimlessly towards the hills, with nothing, but mountains on my mind.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are mountains on your mind, too? If so, what are you thinking about?
  • What happens when your mind and body align with the mountains after a hard day like what Joe describes?







Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.