It’s quiet. I lean back against the jagged rocks — the Milky Way shining bright against the clear, dark sky. We are all silent, either asleep or just staring out into the darkness of the midnight hours.
At 13,000 feet, we sit nestled in the rock grotto of the Hardrock 100’s most infamous aid station, Kroger’s Canteen.
When I ran Hardrock a few years ago, I stumbled my way up the snow steps to Virginius Pass — dry heaving and falling asleep. Then aid station captain Roch Horton shoved me in a tent and three hours later I awoke ready to run again. If it weren’t for Roch and his crew I wouldn’t have finished, so when this year’s aid station captain Joe Grant asked me to join for this year’s crew, I couldn’t say no. I had to repay my dues.
As runners passed through Kroger’s Canteen this year, we fed them coffee and potstickers (Southwest Colorado was out of pierogis this year) and watched as the day faded to night and turned to day again. The rugged Sneffels Range stretched across the horizon to the north and the mountains above Telluride covered the southern skies.
Staring out across this grand vista, I find myself feeling very grateful for the mountains I have called home, especially now, as I’m about to go into a wilderness I can’t quite comprehend. Big places can be intimidating at first, but over time, curiosity can override fear. There are places of lore I have explored: the Gila Wilderness, the Grand Canyon, Cedar Mesa, the Henry Mountains, the Dark Canyon Wilderness, the Wind River Range, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Weminuche Wilderness, El Camino del Diablo, and Comb Ridge. From the rivers that connect the towns, to the hidden canyons, and mountain ranges of the U.S. Southwest, I find myself constantly yearning for intimate experiences in hard-to-reach places. Is this mystical feeling a fragment of my imagination, or is it a legitimate compilation of stories from those who have wandered the backroads before me? The external views of these places are as sought after as the internal experience. The question, “What will I do if something goes wrong?” sits at the top of my mind. Will I overcome loneliness, hunger, cold, and exhaustion? What is the outcome if I don’t?
Right now as I write this, I sit in a backyard in Anchorage, Alaska. A seagull chimes in between a lull of the drone of airplanes, “The sound of summer in Alaska,” a friends says. What will we hear up north, I wonder? After a stressful few weeks of work and life, I find myself yearning for the physical and mental quietude of a big place. I hope when my friends and I go into the wild, I can find the freedom to let my mind rest.
I think of home, not of the aforementioned physical space in the U.S. Southwest that I have come to love, but the place inside where I can love and trust myself to feel free. I load the last of my food for our trip. I stuff my sleeping bag away and close up my pack. The thought of people I will miss brings tears to my eyes. A day’s drive is all that separates me and my compadres from a month in the wilderness. My questions will eventually be answered, and those far-away loved ones will be seen in the sun that guides us.
I am not sure I have much purpose here beyond some lonely treks across vast landscapes, but that is okay. Contentment, I believe, is found when I know I am following my own path and here I am on the fringes of adventure alongside some friends. I hope I can embrace my love for the outdoors over the next month, and in turn, find some love to give to myself. Wishing all my friends and family equal parts love and contentment in their own lives. I will think of you all often. Until later.
Call for Comments
- What is your happy life place? Somewhere out in the wilds? When you are meeting life’s goals? When you are assisting others?
- How much adventure, or at least time away from regular life, do you feel you need to support your well-being?