Serenity On The Trail

AJW ponders an absence of serenity in his ‘regular’ life and an abundance of it on the run.

By on December 12, 2014 | 2 comments

AJWs Taproom“You can’t know it, but you can be it, at ease in your own life.” -Lao Tsu

In recent years, I have found it more and more difficult to find serenity in my life. While this is certainly an inevitable byproduct of a busy job, an active family, and a complex life, I also wonder if it is something inherent to me. Something that has become increasingly difficult to settle into and something that I may be able to oppose if I just open myself up to it.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu implores us to tune into nature’s rhythms and make life suitable for serenity’s arrival. Embracing cold and heat, light and dark, wet and dry, indeed, the yin and yang, are intended to allow us to clear the path to serenity, or so the story goes.

But, in the midst of 21st century chaos, how can I do that? Where can my serene path be found in a place where the trailhead is so overgrown with weeds and brambles? The answer, I believe, lies within.

There is no doubt that it has become increasingly difficult to focus on anything these days. As we are bombarded by distraction and confusion, it’s no wonder that the way has not been made clear. But, we do have running. Running provides a respite from the chaos, a place that is ordered, structured, and whole. Running guides us to the serene and gives us a sense of purpose. Running, indeed, brings balance.

Last week I went for a run after school. At the beginning, it was just like every other run. I rushed to the locker room to change, quickly laced up my shoes, and headed down the school driveway. I crossed the college campus across the street and descended to the trailhead. As I entered the woods, the rhythm of my breaths and the sound of the leaves underfoot were all that I could hear. At the base of the first big hill, I raised my eyes and glided upward. The hill cruised by, the trees and the birds and the branches were my world. It was perfect.

Returning to school an hour later, the sun was quickly setting over the firehouse to the west. The redness of the sky contrasted deeply with the grayness of the forest. The chill in the air bit into my cheeks and my head was clear, my heart was calm, my body in balance.

As I unlaced my shoes in the misty dusk and returned to the rest of my life, a moment of clarity came upon me. If we can find a time and a place for serenity on the trail, then why can’t we do it elsewhere? What is it about that moment of focus found on a random Wednesday in December that can be replicated in my daily life? Well, maybe it can’t and maybe that’s just fine. Maybe just knowing that my daily run is there, consistently ready to show me the way, in the end, is enough. In truth, it may be all I need.

Bottoms up!

After over a year of reviews, this is the last of Brew Davis’s reviews. Thanks so much, Brew, and we’ll see you on the trail!

Brew’s Beer of the Month

Tallgrass Brewing Company Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream StoutNext time you’re driving through the Kansas prairies on I-70, take the 10-minute detour to Manhattan, Kansas, home of the K-State Wildcats and Tallgrass Brewing Company. Tallgrass will have a taphouse downtown by next summer. In the meantime, since Manhattan is a college town, you can get a pint at one of the roughly 7,563 pubs near campus.

The Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout seasonal was my beverage of choice. This sweet, smooth derivative of Buffalo Sweat–a year-round offering at Tallgrass–carries some weight but goes down easy.

Before you imbibe, stretch your legs at Konza Prairie Biological Station, which has over seven miles of trail, stark gallery forests, and a sizeable herd of bison.

On one of Konza’s many ridges, with snow falling from low, grey clouds, an eastern wind stirring the tallgrass, and gorgeous views of the Flint Hills in every direction, I had to stop and take it all in. Images from the last 18 months swirled in my head–skipping rocks at dusk on Lake Superior, my daughter, Charley, seeing her first glacier in Alaska, being surrounded by manzanita at the rim of Bryce Canyon, running down the Box Canyon near Telluride in late fall. The closing lines from a Modest Mouse song blended with the images: ‘There’s so much beauty it could make you cry/ So much beauty it could make you cry.”

Jen’s book tour is over now. Having visited every corner of the country and an enormous swath in between, it’s safe to say that one of my longest-held beliefs has been reinforced: those of us who spend time in America’s wild places are some of the luckiest individuals on the planet. This holiday season, I hope we can all find time to be grateful for what we have, particularly for the opportunity to escape ‘civilization’ and lose ourselves in public lands and the trails that run through them.

With that, I’ll say thanks to AJW for giving me an excuse to visit dozens of taprooms and drink lots of beer, and thanks to Bryon and Meghan for hosting such a terrific website. Happy Holidays and Happy Trails!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you able to find serenity among the hustle and bustle of everyday life? If so, how and where?
  • If running is your place of peace, how do you put away the stresses of everyday life to enjoy it? Do you have to actively leave your thoughts behind or do you find that the trail or your movement distracts your mind enough to settle out?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.