I tried a new and adventurous thing today: a 5K mud run.  Let’s be clear.  I am a dreadful runner.  When I go for a jog in the park nannies burn past me with their strollers.  The only reason I agreed to 5 kilometers of such torture was the promise of obstacles and mud pits.  And a beer at the end of it.  There were five of us running today, Andrew (yes, he of the dislocated knee), Gigi, Liz, and Krista, all but one employees or former employees of my shop.  They all enjoy running, though only Liz among us had ever done an organized run.  I knew there was no way I would keep up with them, so I set very simple goals: finish (preferably not last), and don’t throw up.

We set out at 6am, found the event, signed in and got right back in the car.  It was cold.  Our event started at 10, so we sat around, warmed up a bit and applied war paint with blue and pink Zinka.  Merrell and Subaru were hosting the run, which had been dubbed The Down N’ Dirty Mud Run and Obstacle Course.  There were tents of various sponsors, a shower and changing area and a stage with speakers and music.  I was so excited by the time the starting gun went off, I had to force myself to take it slow.  As I predicted, I lost my friends in the first hundred yards, but I had a strategy: jog until you see the obstacle, then stop and walk quickly to recover before attempting it.  The obstacles consisted of mud pits, low crawls, cargo net climbs, a rock wall, a pushup station and a water crossing.  I did have to walk a brutal uphill stretch, and my hiking experience served me well.  I ran all the way on the downhill stretch, and probably jogged 2.5 miles overall.  I may not have finished first, nor did I finish last, but I do have the distinction of intentionally running through every single mud puddle.  By the time I finished I was a mess.  If I had come home like that as a kid, my mother might have sold me to a pig farm.

We all finished in sloppy, muddy glory, washed off with hoses and changed into clean clothes.  We had lunch, drank some beer and sat in triumph in the sun.  My feet were sore and my knees and elbows scraped from the crawling, but I had an absolute blast!  Gigi is already talking about a tougher race next year, so I’ll have to put in some serious training.  If you’re looking for a fun day and you love the satisfaction of getting filthy, try a mud run.  It’s worth it, even if you stink at running!

Stay Wild!


Musings from the John Muir Trail

Spring is here, and the warm weather has me itching to get my pack back on.  There is a routine and a clarity to backpacking that I find nowhere else.  Last summer, my completion of the John Muir Trail gave me something else that has been lacking in my life: a sense of accomplishment.  Like many young people I’m making my way in the world, working a job that pays the bills, having fun and learning a lot, but hardly doing anything earth-shattering.  It felt good to have a difficult, long-term goal and complete it.  I hiked the trail with my best friend, Katie, over three sections in three summers.  The first year we really had no idea what we were getting into.  Neither of us had done more than four or five days in the backcountry, but we decided on a nine-day, seventy-five mile itinerary.  The weather was mercifully kind, but we found out just what it means to haul 40-pound packs over mountain passes at twelve and thirteen thousand feet.  Still, the experience was addictive.  The early exhaustion and tendency to jump at every noise slowly gives way to a natural rhythm and a quiet, capable confidence.

The second year we were perhaps too confident.  We underestimated the sixty-mile trip from Mammoth to Yosemite Valley.  I was ill-conditioned and bothered by painful knees the entire time.  Katie got sick and completed the trip only with DayQuil and some serious determination.  Yosemite was crowded as ever, and much of the time was spent on trails littered with donkey poop from the pack animals that resupply the High Sierra camps.  The Mammoth area to Donahue Pass was stunning, but we got a taste of a cold mountain storm that brought a morning so frigid we had to eat our oatmeal while stomping around camp to keep our toes warm in our boots.

By the time we started preparing for the last section we had gained a good deal of experience and a lot more respect for the task at hand.  The two-week, 128-mile trip was our most ambitious outing, and I was nervous.  We would be hiking late in the season: the last week of September through the first week of October.  I had gone to great lengths to be fit and to rehabilitate my knees, but was still nervous about their surviving a strenuous trip.  Once again, we got lucky with the weather and the first big snow held off until the day after we got back home.  It was a new experience for me to be so isolated and vulnerable.  We resupplied on the third day, but shortly after that we had no access to rangers or a reliable weather report.  There were few hikers after the first half, and we could go days without seeing anyone.  By the end of Day 9 I found myself thinking, “We are 50 miles from the end, and the safest way out is forward”.  The thought is intimidating, but everything is simplified as a result.  Regardless of what comes, your path is clear.  Few things in my experience are like this.  The mental strength that comes from such a circumstance is powerful.  What do I have to fear in the city when I have been a speck in the mountains reliant solely on myself and my friend?

When things upset me now, I think back to this.  I think of the calmness with which problems must be faced in the mountains.  I think of how one must simply get on with it, shoulder the pack and keep moving forward.  I think of how you keep going because you can, because you must, because you’re not dead yet.  I think of how fatigue and pain and frustration are part of the process; necessary but not strong enough to diminish the beauty of the journey.  This is why I keep going back to the mountains.  They illuminate truths that are so easily missed in the chaos of modern life.  They give me purpose and guidance.  They give me life.

Stay Wild

Red Flags

A word about red flags.  They usually pop up once or twice on every adventure.  Whether in the preparation process or the middle of the trip or the tail end when you’re almost home free, something happens that makes you think twice.  Perhaps the weather forecast looks nasty or a stream crossing is a little too high or maybe you just get that feeling that something is wrong.  When this happens, please pay attention.  Risks are a part of outdoor activity.  It is easy to discount fear or worries when fixated on a goal.  But often they are the things that keep us alive and safe.  I can’t tell you when to proceed and when to alter your plans.  I can only ask you to be as informed as possible about the risks you are taking and allow yourself to stop and think when a red flag pops up.  Recently I have had two instances occur in which someone, one an acquaintance, one a stranger, took a serious, unnecessary risk which cost them their life.  Below are a few suggestions to help you be aware of risks and judge them wisely.

1. Check the weather.  What is the forecast for your trip?  What has the weather been like for the last few months?

2.  Talk to a ranger or the locals.  They will know about dangers and existing conditions.  If there has been a late winter or severe storms you may be walking into a hazardous situation.

3.  Find out what kind of skills (navigation, mountaineering, physical conditioning, equipment) are required and make sure you are experienced in them.

4.  Plan alternate or escape routes in case the weather changes suddenly.

5.  Leave your itinerary with a trusted friend.  Give them contact information for the local rangers and a date that they should expect to hear from you.  If you fail to contact them they should call the rangers immediately.

I don’t like to write grim things, but every time I read about someone dying outdoors I remind myself:  Make decisions that will keep you active for many years to come.  Don’t be blinded in the pursuit of a goal.  Pay attention to the red flags.

Stay Wild!