Natural Selection

picTrue intimacy requires vulnerability. It requires standing in your truth. It requires you to accept and reveal yourself as you truly are. This can’t be one-sided either; both sides must be willing to be open. Sometimes I have failed at this; other times I have been the one who was let down. I often feel misunderstood as I grasp at vulnerability with slippery fingers. But one relationship that has grown deep like roots has been my intimate relationship with nature.

My earliest recollection of connecting with nature, in a conscious way, was when I was 12 years old. I lived in Berwyn, Illinois and it was summertime. After my parents left for work, I rode my silver and orange Dyno bike to the local baseball field where I played Little League. I stopped my bike at the edge of the chain linked fence and walked onto the field. I slipped my shoes off and walked through the slightly overgrown grass as the blades tickled my ankles. It was warm, and my sweat beaded on my forehead below my baseball cap. The sky was as blue as the petals of a gentian. Butterflies dipped up and down like they were on an invisible roller coaster and crows cawed from the top of the metal fence. I decided to lay down right in the middle of center field, and I tucked my hands behind my head to make a pillow. I just stared up at the sky and the white cotton clouds; I let the sun take my face in her hands. I am unsure of how long I stared at the clouds, but I watched them gently move across the sky changing shapes.

When I was younger, I didn’t really seek out nature. I knew it was all around me, but we were more like acquaintances. Then my dad and I started to fish together when I was in high school, until he passed away in June 2014. My dad had a bass boat and had been a fisherman most of his life. We would wake up when the morning skies were dark. As we got to the boat ramp, the sun started to peer above the water line. My dad always found solace at the lake. He wasn’t a church going man, but he said his church was the lake. Those were the times he felt closest to God.

It was on the lake when nature started to come alive for me. I would watch herons stand stiff like stones waiting for unsuspecting fish to swim by. I saw ducks paddling by with their newly hatched ducklings trailing behind in a line. I saw the array of personalities the lake had as well. Some days the lake was smooth and green like a glass bottle. Other days the lake swelled creating whitecaps that violently rocked the boat. I also was able to watch the day unfold before me. In the springtime, my dad and I could easily fish for 12 hours. I watched the sun make its full rotation through the sky. Every second the sunlight changed the landscape around me. I began to long for the early morning fishing expeditions. I needed the wind to rip by as we sped across the lake to each of our secret fishing spots. I needed the sunshine on my skin as much as I needed the rainstorms. I needed that feeling of peace as my dad and I silently sat on opposite ends of the boat continuously casting waiting for a bite.

It was after my fishing experiences that I started to become an outdoors woman. It was then I started my relationship with nature. My time off of work was filled with hiking. I discovered my love of kayaking, running, and the ocean. I took my first big trip out of the country in 2008, and I spent 2 weeks in the south island of New Zealand. I did daily hikes, I snorkeled, I kayaked across the Marlborough Sound, and as I stood upon a mountain top I heard a thunderous avalanche on a neighboring mountain. I remember when I told people about my trip they said, “That isn’t a vacation!” No, I didn’t relax in the normal sense of the word; however, I was energized and reignited by nature. She lit my internal fire like I was a wood burning stove.

I remember one particularly harder hike I did. My leg muscles were tired, and I was clawing at rocks to pull myself up to the summit. When I made it to the top, I found myself alone up there gazing out over Mueller Glacier. I felt overwhelmed with joy, awe and gratefulness. My eyes teared up, and it was as if nature was standing in front of me naked, raw, and powerful. It was that trip that forever secured my love for nature and traveling.

Later that year I became a runner. That is when my relationship with nature grew even deeper. Running in nature makes me feel wild; I am one of the dandelions that grows freely. I feel like with each stride I step more into myself. Nature sees me for who I am, and there is no judgment. When I am on a run, there are no pretenses. I am in my purest, most honest form. Nature reciprocates that. Nature never pretends to be something she isn’t; she is unapologetically herself. Within nature’s vulnerability, I am able to be vulnerable. Nature is a safe place to be exactly who I am.

For-Evergreen

DeceptionPassIslandIn 2011, I decided I wanted to run a half-marathon in every state. Combining the two things I loved, traveling and running, seemed ingenious. One thing I realized was there was no better way to see a city than to run through it. Running through streets, downtowns, neighborhoods, state parks, mountains, and everything in between was like seeing into the soul of a city. As I stated in my last blog, I was working on my 17th state last week, which I did accomplish. Up until this point I have run in Tennessee (Nashville), Virginia (Roanoke), Oregon (Portland), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana (Franklinton), West Virginia (Charleston), Utah (Midway), Colorado (Grand Junction, Aspen, Colorado Springs, Georgetown), North Dakota (Fargo), Georgia (Lawrenceville), California (Santa Cruz), Wyoming (Green River), Texas (San Antonio), Hawaii (Lahaina on Maui), New Mexico (Albuquerque), Nevada (Boulder City), and now Washington State (Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island). Currently on the schedule for May and June is Arizona (There isn’t even a city for that race; it is just GPS coordinates! But it is in Kaibab National Forest.) and Alaska (Anchorage).

When I travel, I will generally drive anywhere that is within 8 hours from me. Anything over 8 hours, and I will usually opt to fly. But there is nothing like a road trip. This last adventure kept me fairly close to home. The drive from Astoria, Oregon to Oak Harbor, Washington State on Whidbey Island was 4 ½ hours. There is nothing quite like the open road. It just happened to be sunny that day. I had the sun roof open, my left leg propped up close to the dashboard, and my music floated out the speakers. The evergreen trees lined the roads and skyline like dutiful soldiers standing tall. Eagles soared in circular patterns never flapping their wings. The sun gently laid her warmth on my skin and the top of my head. (The sun also highlighted how dirty the inside of my windows were.)

En route to my hotel, I stopped at Deception Pass State Park for a hike. I started at Rosario Beach to Bowman Bay and Lottie Bay and up to Lighthouse Point and Vista Point. One thing I noticed was when I was outside, and especially in the woods hiking, it was hard to not breathe deeply. The same air I was breathing was the same air that rustled the tree leaves and blew the blades of grass in a synchronized wave. There was such a peace and relaxation that I just wanted to take it in and be a part of it.

The trail wasn’t overcrowded, but there was a steady amount of people until I arrived to Vista Point. It was there I had the cliff edge all to myself. The silence hung in the air like a framed picture on the wall. The water crinkled and reflected the sunlight, and Mother Nature decided to put on a show. Porpoises arched out of the water breaking the rippling surface. All around seagulls dove at the water surrounding the porpoises, grazing the surface, and pulling back up into flight. The sound of heavy breathing and spraying water caught my attention in the silence as a sea lion swam onto the scene. For quite some time, I sat mesmerized under Mother Nature’s spell; she exposed herself in my own private peep show.

The hike back to the car felt light. I seemed to glide right over the trail, rocks and roots. The path wound around the bay’s shoreline, then dipped into the woods, and then out into a park and open field. The trail picked back up by some campsites where the woods cloaked the trail but occasionally opened like a curtain to showcase the bay, cliffs and islands. The trail eventually led right back to the wooded parking lot.

The other big part of my trip was my half-marathon. It wasn’t sunny on race day, but it wasn’t raining either. The skies were gray and white with just a hint of blue in the backdrop. A strong breeze was blowing in off the bay, and pre-race the runners were hiding behind port-a-potties and buildings to try to block the wind.

The race was released in waves. About 200 people started every 90 seconds; there was about 1,200 runners participating in the half-marathon. I seemed to be surrounded by the half-marathon newbies. It was fun to hear the nervous chatter, and the vows to just survive and never do it again. (I may have uttered those words before my first half-marathon, but I am now 22 half-marathons in, so I don’t think it had much validity).

For each race, I always set three goals. One goal that I know I should be able to accomplish; one goal that is tough and pushes my limits but still within the realm of being possible, and then one final goal that is just out of reach, but hell I never know. Any given race day, right? With my goals in mind, I hovered around the 2 hour and 15 minute pacer before the race began. This race was an out and back on the road that hugged the shoreline. The race started flat for about a mile. Then the road continuously rolled up and down as if it was a wave itself. I decided to not try to stay with the pacer I initially started with and lagged behind. I watched her lean figure with a swinging ponytail get farther away, but I could still see her star-shaped sign she was holding up. That can be hard to do especially for someone like me who is goal-oriented and results-driven. But I decided to run my own race. Halfway through the race, I did pass the pacer. I know I am always a slow starter. Oddly enough, I get stronger as a race goes on. So I always try to keep in mind that I know myself and my own body. A pacer is always an awesome tool to have in a race, but only I know the best way for me to run. I am able to gauge how I am doing around the halfway mark, and then mile 10 is the marker I start to get a good idea of how my race will pan out.

This ended up being my fastest race time since I had knee surgery. My accomplishments are now referred to as pre-surgery and post-surgery. So I guess I had a post-surgery PR. My pre and post-surgery goals and accomplishments have not crossed paths, yet. So they still need their own categories. (That is a discussion for another blog, but there is nothing like tearing your ACL and both meniscus, as well as spraining every other 3 letter acronym in your knee, and then throwing in a cyst for shits and giggles). I took 2 minutes and 28 seconds off my post-surgery PR. It always feels so good to see the finish line sign jutting up above the crowd.

And then realize on this day, I would be accomplishing my goals.