Solitary Confinement

wild thing

I am almost halfway through a 4-week yoga teacher training. Today my assignment is to disconnect from the world. I am supposed to try to not talk, I am not supposed to use my phone for any purpose, I should not use the internet or watch any television, and I am supposed to avoid any distractions that take me away from my “self.” I have decided throughout this day to blog about my experience because I am allowed to write, journal and read if it helps me to connect to my “self.”

I have no idea what to expect from this experience. I am not someone who shies away from alone time. I spend a lot of time in nature; I love to run, do yoga, write and journal, and I enjoy reading. But I already have this feeling of, “What do I do with myself?” I am one hour into my silence, and I have been home for 30 minutes. I already feel like I have so much time. Since I have been home, I have washed a load of laundry, I folded a load of laundry, I took my dog out to use the bathroom, I made breakfast, and I am working on this blog. My day feels like an expansive canyon that continues to spread out. I am able to imagine all sorts of possibilities and options.

I want to run on a new trail I discovered. I want to take my dog for a walk. I want to write. I want to play on a new disc golf course by my house. I want to continue working on a puzzle I am in the middle of. I want to meditate and practice my yoga postures. I want to take a nap…But I realize part of this assignment is just to be. To be an actual human “being”, not just doing. But the things I truly enjoy doing connect me to my authentic self. I am not just trying to fill my day with meaningless actions.

I think some of the problems we experience here in the States are filling our time with things that don’t matter. We just try to fill “dead” space. So we zone out on the television. We spend hours down a Youtube rabbit hole. We will be on social media for hours on end. Then we find ourselves more disconnected from ourselves, and we wonder where the time has went. Another problem we run in to is zoning out on the things we have to do. We take ourselves out of moments like when we shower, when we cook, when we walk our dog, when we do laundry and so on. We let our minds drift while we do these tasks, and we just give moments away; we just give our treasured life away by not being present. So my main focus is to do what ignites my inner flame. To do the things that take me home within myself.

I also want to allow even more time for self-reflection. I am two weeks into my training, and I am realizing and able to see how much I have grown and learned over the years. Since this training began, I feel bad ass. I feel secure; I feel powerful and beautiful. There have been some obstacles, but I feel deeply rooted in my “self.” I trust myself, I trust my feelings, and I trust the things I know. I have not wavered. This isn’t in a “I know better than everyone else” or “I am always right” sort of way. This is in a “I know who I am, what my boundaries are, and what I expect out of myself and other people” sort of way. It is a strong feeling of self. Of feeling cemented in who I am.

***

I have now been in silence for 6 hours. I took a 90 minute nap which was refreshing. I also walked my dog through our downtown area. I actually felt like a voyeur. I was peering into this world, the people moving about, and the cars driving by, yet I felt separate from it all. Besides walking through the streets and past other people, I had no tether to my surroundings. I just felt like an observer.

I also ran the trail I found by my house. I have driven past this trail for almost two years, and I just started to notice it a year ago. This seemed like a great time to actually run it, and I love trying new running routes. I love the surprise of not knowing what is coming around each turn, what I will see, and what the terrain will be like. This run turned out to be quite fitting for my current circumstance. I didn’t see any other people on the trail. The trail followed the river, and it followed the outskirts of town. While I was on this run, I was once again a voyeur. I watched the cars driving over the bridge unaware that I was spying on them. I saw my town from a distance seeing it from a whole new angle. I was really able to see each individual house that was built into the hills of the city. I was also on the side of the river I had never been on. There were herons wading. Several times they flew ahead of me leading me along the path. A hummingbird zipped by stopping at a flower. The grass has been freshly cut and it awoke my sense of smell.

The trail ended up being 2 miles long, so I ran an out and back which made it 4 miles. I ended up in a moving meditation as well. I really connected to myself and my surroundings. I took turns focusing on my different senses as I ran. I listened to the sounds around me: car engines, plane engines, and bird calls. I felt the sensations in my body: my leg muscles tightening as I pushed off the ground, my arms pumping to the rhythm of my feet, the last of the summer breeze blowing through, and the air flowing in and out of my lungs. I focused on my sense of smell as well, but the freshly cut grass was so powerful it just dominated. I looked around me and devoured the sights: the shallow river with wading birds, the uneven trail with banana slugs and their slime sticking to the blades of grass, the green trees comprised of individual, unique leaves, and the mountains sitting in the skyline.

***

My evening is starting to wind down. I have some studying to do, and a meditation and breath work to do. But it has been helpful to write about my feelings and experiences as they happen. It is helping me deeply connect with the moment I am in. Writing this blog is bringing up a new perspective as well. This feels like my one link to the outside world. I have no contact with my loved ones. I have no real contact with the outside world. It is just my dog and I in this clear bubble, and I am not even conversing with my dog. But writing out my experiences knowing I plan on sharing them with others gives me a strange feeling of connection. It is like a spider web; I am the circular center and the filament branches outward connecting me to others.

I think we are also used to sharing  ourselves, our lives and our experiences with others. We either physically share moments with people, we talk, write or text our experiences to others, and then there is even social media where we can share our daily lives. Today has been interesting because at this moment, no one actually knows what I am going through or what I have done. But in this solitude, I have felt that invisible thread that ties every last one of us together.

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.

Committed

73

(October 4th, 2008 before my first 5K race)

I was reminded on New Year’s Eve what it was like to be a new runner again. I was huddled around the Running Room store in Victoria, B.C. with fellow runners, and one dog, waiting for the fun run to begin. I was gently stretching my legs when a woman appeared next to me. She smiled and said, “You look like a runner who has been doing this awhile.” I took this as a compliment, and I smiled back. I told her I had been running for years. She said, “So can I ask you a question?” I nodded. She said, “This is my first run ever, and I don’t know how to put this bib on.” She had a nice Arc’teryx jacket, and she didn’t want to put safety pins through it. I gave her the rundown of other places to pin her bib. Also, since this was a fun run, and no timing chips were involved, the bib wasn’t really of importance. After talking about bib placement for a few minutes, she elaborated on one of her previous statements. “This is my first 5K. It is actually my first time running ever.” She paused. “I have a friend who has been a runner her whole life, and she is the one who talked me into running. She says she loves it.”

It was this statement that made me want to write this blog. I am not sure what it is about us runners where we try to share the joy of running with others. It is like we discovered this treasure buried in the backyard and we are holding it between our cupped hands, wide-eyed showing anyone who will look. But I think sometimes we don’t give enough disclaimers.

I told this woman who was about to embark on her first running journey that when I started running 9 years ago, I actually did not enjoy it; I didn’t love it. The only reason I stuck with it in the first several months was because I was stubborn and goal-oriented. I wanted her to know that she may not enjoy this run and that was okay.

It also started to make me think about other comments people have said to me. Countless numbers of people have told me, “I just can’t do what you do. I am not a runner.” I am not sure what non-running people think. Do they think I just woke up one day and had the ability to go for a 13-mile jaunt?  The way I become a runner was to just start and go for a run. It wasn’t a secret society I was initiated into. The only requirements were to step out the front door and go.

My whole life I was not a runner either. I had always been athletic. I grew up playing softball, baseball, and basketball. I even used to race my dad in the 100 meter dash in the street in front of our house, but I never ran over a ½ mile just for the sake of running. I even remember the first time I ran a mile, which was in college for my softball team, and I walked more than half of it. Needless to say, I was acquainted with the “I am not a runner” mindset.

In July 2008, I decided I was going to be a runner. Several things played into this decision. First, I had quit smoking on September 11th, 2007, and once I knew I had that addiction under control, I wanted to continue to make better choices. Second, I was nearing my 30th birthday. While I was in good shape, I never really worked out. I realized I wanted my body conditioned and healthy for years to come, so I needed to decide how I was going to do this. I love being outdoors, so I knew I didn’t want to work out in a gym. I thought running was the right way for me to exercise my body. Once that decision was made, I picked out my first race, which was a 5K for the Susan G. Komen Foundation in Nashville, TN. I knew if I had a race set and a goal in mind that would push me to train and stick with running.

I trained for 3 months for my 5K. There was no other way to describe it except horribly satisfying. Once again, I found myself not being able to run a ½ mile. It hurt. My legs, my lungs, and my body revolted against my grand idea of being a runner. They made their objections known through pain. But as I mentioned, I am stubborn and goal-oriented. I made a commitment to complete a 5K and that was it.

So every time I ran, I continued to push myself. Even if I could only go one step farther than the previous run, that was one step farther. It took almost a month before I could run my first mile without stopping to walk. I already mentioned I was stubborn and goal-oriented, but I also didn’t like taking the easy route. On my runs, I found the hardest routes possible.

By my house was a massive hill, and I incorporated it into my running route. I hated that fucking hill, and I hated myself for choosing to make it part of my running route. But one day, as my muscles burned and sweat sat at my hairline and fell like rain droplets, I crested the hill. I actually cried. It took me weeks to conquer this hill; it took me weeks to conquer running a mile. It took pain and uncomfortableness. It took perseverance and appreciating a small accomplishment. And I kept building on it.

After that first month, I improved quickly. It was like I broke through a self-imposed barrier. As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.” I was nervous as my race day approached. I didn’t know what I would be capable of in the race. In my training, I made it to 3 miles of running, and I continued to run hills. So I knew I prepared myself as much as I could, but still there was the unknown.

On the day of the race, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what my pace would be, if I would be able to run the whole 5K (which is 3.11 miles), and I didn’t know if I would be able to handle the hills and the bridge crossing. But I was all in. I was committed to this endeavor like a nun to God. I put my faith in my training and prayed for the best.

I was so worried about not being able to complete the race that I ran conservatively. At this point, I didn’t own a GPS watch, I never bothered to check the race map, and I never saw any mile markers on the course. While I felt strong through the whole race, I just kept waiting for the moment where my body wouldn’t want to continue. So I put one foot in front of the other just cautiously waiting.

I also found out how energizing a race could be. Up until this point, I always ran alone. This was the first time my running intersected with other people. There was camaraderie among the runners, and cheering and cowbell ringing from the onlookers. The hills I was concerned about were welcomed reprieves from the straightaway streets. I was also able to see downtown Nashville from a new perspective.

I still remember this so clearly, but I turned right onto Broadway Street, which was one of the main streets of downtown that was lined with Honky Tonks and restaurants, and I saw the finish line a few blocks ahead. I was in shock. When I could see how close I was to being finished, I realized I had energy reserves. I broke out in a quick sprint for the finish. (That first race was the first and only time I had any energy left to spare at the end).

I am not sure what made me stick with running in those first few months because I ran off sheer will. I suppose I secretly loved the screaming of aching muscles. I loved every new accomplishment. I loved being outside in nature. Then, I had my first runner’s high. It took 4 months and I was in the middle of training for a 10K (6.22 miles) race. I was struggling along on my longest run yet, 5 miles, and then I felt it. It was just this sense of joy that pulsated from every cell through my skin. Every strike of my foot on the greenway made me smile. My senses intensified. The birds chirped in a deep conversation. The sun seemed to grow brighter. I could hear the small river loudly coursing over rocks and pebbles. I shut my eyes for a few seconds just to absorb all the sensations. Then moments later, it dropped away like the sun setting behind the horizon. But, the feeling could not be forgotten.

In that brief moment, I went from just running because I made a commitment to do so to running because I enjoyed it.

The Last Frontier

PinkHueMy flight landed at 11:24 p.m. on Thursday (June 15th) in Anchorage. The sun was setting, yet it was still daylight, or otherwise known as civil twilight, and the snow-peaked mountains glowed with a pink hue. I had arrived to run my 25th half-marathon in my 19th state.

I was tired after my flight, but the moment I was driving in my rental car, in the daylight, I re-awoke. I felt like I could have went out for a night on the town. When I arrived at the hotel close to 1 a.m., it seemed the other guests in the hotel lobby felt the same way. Alaska was like the casino that pumps oxygen in to keep the gamblers lively and awake unaware of the hours that have passed them by, except Alaska was pumping its visitors full of light essentially creating the same effect.

That night, well early that morning, I finally lay down at 1:30 a.m. I saw the light nosily pushing its way in on the sides of the metal blinds. But I was able to roll over and ignore the intrusion…for 4 ½ hours.

Then, I found myself wide awake at 6 a.m. I continued to turn back and forth in the queen-size bed forcing my eyes shut because I was tired, but the light did not relent. In fact, it was encouraged, so I conceded.

My three main goals for this new day, that never really ended or started but just sort of continued, were try this vegan, but still served meat, restaurant named Middle Way Café, get my race packet at the Alaska Airlines Center and go on an epic run.

I am happy to say I loved Middle Way Café. In fact, I have eaten breakfast there three times now. I am already a vegetarian, who still eats eggs and fish, but my doctor informed me I had a milk intolerance. So now I am essentially a vegan, who still eats eggs and fish. While there is no “category” for me, I guess if I haveNe to classify myself I would say I am a disgruntled milk intolerant, no meat eatin’ gal who loves farm fresh eggs and fresh fish. So my vegan breakfast burrito, with an egg added, was actually amazing, even though it was cheese free.

Next, I headed to the AAC (Alaska Airlines Center) to go to the race expo and pick up my race packet. Outside the AAC was a very large green blow-up seawolf head, which is the mascot for the University of Alaska Anchorage. In case you are wondering if you missed some new hybrid species of animal, you did not. The seawolf is a mythical creature that is part of the Alaskan culture. It is strong, generous and humble. I thought this seawolf was the perfect creature to embody for my race on Saturday. After watching a large group of exuberant runners take their picture with the large green blow-up seawolf head, I walked inside and briefly perused the expo and received my race bib as well.

The day was shaping up to be beautiful and productive. It was right at 60 degrees with clear skies and sunshine. I ended up asking a local runner, and worker, at Skinny Raven Sports where there were some non-road running paths. She was awesome, and told me 3 different areas to run, but she also warned me about black bears. Apparently they were quite active this time of year and of course Alaska was bear country. I heeded her warning and decided to run on a popular bike trail that followed the coast named Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

There were many places to pick up this trail, and I decided to begin my run at Point Woronzof Park and run towards Kincaid Park. Before I headed out on my run, I decided to Google what I should do if I should happen to encounter a black bear, and a moose for that matter. I have been obsessed with bears since I was a young child, so I already knew black bears were more shy and timid, but they are wild creatures and deserve respect as all animals do. In case I did encounter a bear, I was supposed to walk away from the bear without turning my back, make my presence known by calmly speaking to the bear and slowly wave my arms in the air. The one cardinal rule was never run from a black bear because it may trigger the bear’s chase instinct. This all seemed simple enough. Basically if I encountered a moose, I should give it space, and if it decided to charge I should try to get behind a tree. If I didn’t make it to a tree and it decided to stomp me, then I should curl up into a ball and protect my neck.

So after reading what I should do in case I encountered the different Alaskan wildlife, I took a brief walk down the road and picked up the trail. The weather was warm, the trail was inviting and the trees felt like old friends. I instantly felt comfortable and my legs were energized. If running through the woods wasn’t an enough of a reward, the view of the coast would periodically show itself through a break in the trees.

I was the only runner on the trail, but there were a lot of cyclists and people leisurely strolling along with cameras and binoculars hanging from their necks. There were enough breaks in people though to where I was able to enjoy one-on-one time with the trail and the surroundings. I was only going to do a 3-mile run, but I didn’t want my run to end, so I thought a 4.50 mile run sounded better. I ran farther out, so I could also enjoy a nice walk back to my car to stop and sightsee a little more intently.

So when I was about 3.25 miles into my run I realized I hadn’t seen any other people in about 5 minutes. I was coming around a bend in the trail, and there ambling down the trail in front of me with his head down was a black bear. I instantly stopped running because I remembered the one cardinal rule of encountering a black bear: don’t run. I couldn’t believe this was happening.

I had so many emotions running through me. As I mentioned earlier, I have been obsessed with bears since I was a child. My parents had bought me an encyclopedia set (yes, pre-internet) when I was around 9 years old. I read and reread about all the different bears, moose and sharks and fish of the ocean. My mom and I would also go to the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois every weekend. I spent hours watching the bears sleep, feed, fight, and roughhouse. So needless to say, the first emotion I felt was awe. I thought, “Holy shit!” I started smiling in disbelieve, but it also started to register that a bear was walking towards me because my thoughts went from “Holy shit” to “Oh shit!”

I started to walk backwards slowly, but I realized the bear still had not seen me. He was walking towards me faster than I could walk backwards. I know black bears don’t like to be surprised and that is what can cause them to react to a human. So I thought I better let the bear know I was there, but let me tell you it goes against your instincts. So when I first tried to alert the bear of my presence, I apparently wasn’t speaking loud enough, and I may have been using my library voice, because he never looked up. I realized I was going to have to be louder, so I started my one-sided dialogue again while I slowly waved my arms in the air, “Mister Bear?!” I called out. (The bear continued to follow the trail towards me with his head down). Shit, he still didn’t hear me. I cleared my throat, “Mister Bear?!” (Damn, I hoped this wasn’t a female bear, and now I offended her because I confused her gender). The bear finally looked up and made eye contact with me as his ears pointed upwards. Great, I finally got his attention…now what. As I continued to wave my arms slowly I calmly said, “Mister Bear. Hey, um, I need you to get off the trail please. Okay?” He stopped walking and looked at me just for a second more, and then he veered off the trail into the woods.

It was at that point I realized my heart was pounding like a war drum. My palms were damp, and my jaw had dropped open. I stood astonished for a few moments feeling my blood surging through me. I thought I better wait a few moments before I started running again, so I turned around and started to walk back in the direction of my car. It was then I started smiling again. I just had a beautiful and safe interaction with an animal I had loved and respected my whole life. It was just him and me there on that trail. I felt so thankful. I could not believe Mother Nature gifted me this present.

It took about 5 minutes before I started running again, but my smile never left my face.

Sacred Interaction

Race

My latest adventure had me on a plane to Phoenix, Arizona on May 26th to run my 24th half-marathon in my 18th state. I decided to run a trail race in Kaibab National Forest which overlooks the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This race consisted of a half-marathon, a 50K and a 50 miler.

Running is one of my biggest passions, and trail running is a seductive extension of that. The trail is like a snake charmer, and I am the snake. I am lured into a trance. It makes me think of something my belly dancing teacher once said when we were learning how to do sword balancing on our heads. She said, “The sword, or whatever you are performing with, is your dance partner. You essentially become one with it. You have to feel it and move with it. The moment you take your focus off your dance partner, the sword, it will fall.” That is exactly how I describe trail running: Nature and I commune as one. It is a sacred interaction. The moment I am not giving the trail my full devotion she lets me know. (I can’t count how many times I have tripped, fallen or skidded up or off a trail). Once I am connected to the trail, I move with her over rocks and roots; in stride, I leap over fallen branches and logs, I wind up and over hills, and hop-scotch over washed away trail sections. Even though trail running is more strenuous and tougher than road races, the reward is much greater for me; trail runs and races are always an adventure.

Even getting to the start of this race was an adventure. Once I was at Kaibab National Forest, I drove 28 miles of rocky, dusty road that twisted through a mixture of Douglas Fir, Aspen and Ponderosa trees. Walls of tan and red rocks were the backdrop, and Kaibab Squirrels were scrambling about with their stark silver tails waving behind.

Once I arrived at the start of the race, which took almost 90 minutes, it was an intimate affair. Between all three races there were 425 runners. Trail runners are a different breed of runners but in a good way. There is an aspect of loving and respecting nature, possessing a certain amount of grit, and mixing in a little bit of bad ass. Trail runners and races seem to be greener as well. Case in point was the bathrooms. There were two rows of 10 “bathrooms” back to back. They were tall, skinny camouflage tents with zippered doors. Upon entering the tents, there was a large yellow bucket with wooden panels over the sides of it and a toilet seat. Instead of the typical blue chemical filled port-a-porties, these bathrooms offered buckets of sawdust and a scooper to cover up one’s excrement. It seems funny to be discussing the bathrooms at a race, but if you are a runner you understand the pre and post-race importance of the bathroom. I loved that this race was thinking and acting in the environment’s best interest.

The three different race distances all started at different times. The 50 mile runners had started their race at 5 a.m., the 50K runners had started their race at 6 a.m., and the half-marathon runners started their race at 7 a.m. The excitement around the starting line rose as the race inched closer to the beginning. Even though the half-marathon started later it was still chilly, which was putting it mildly. Runners were huddled around fires absorbing any warmth they could, and the Ponderosa trees allowed the sunlight to filter through as well.

The race announcer called everyone over and started the countdown to the beginning of the race, and his voice echoed above the crowd, “Three, two, one, Go!” And the 190 half-marathon runners poured onto the trail. I knew from the start I would have to walk parts of this race. We started at about 7,000 feet of elevation and in the first 1.5 miles we would be gaining about 1,000 feet of elevation. This ascent began almost immediately after the start of the race. I hiked this first part as hard and as fast as I could keeping a steady pace, and so did many of the other runners. When the hill, or what seemed more like a mountain, peaked we were met with our first water station and check-in point. One of the things I really love about trail running is the aid stations. Unlike road races that have water stations almost every mile or two with plastic cups, trail races are much more limited due to the trail space, and there are typically more solid foods to eat as well. Since most trail races are green, they don’t offer cups either. You are expected to carry your own bottle and fill it up. At this first station, I checked in and my race bib was marked, and I refilled my water bottle and was able to begin running.

I remember when the first signs of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon began peeping through the trees. I shouted to the runner ahead of me, “Look to your left!” Then I felt a surge of energy and begin pushing ahead. Less than a ½ mile later the view of the Grand Canyon came into full view. All I could say was, “Holy Shit” which I did say aloud. It looked like a proud warrior with his chest puffed out. It was a rich shade of red, and it layered up like a tiered cake. I felt a deep sense of love and joy creeping up from my belly. I felt so grateful to be in this race, on this trail, in this moment. I heard a woman behind me exclaim to her friend, “Oh my God! I think I might cry! I saw the Grand Canyon before I turned 50! It is amazing!” I knew the exact feeling she was having.

After about a mile or so of a steep and slippery, yet rocky, downhill, I entered my meditative zone. My legs felt fresh and light; the trail was calling me to follow her. The trail gently rolled along for a few miles, and I ended up passing 10 people because I felt so damn good. The second check-in and water station was upon me which seemed so quick. I told the race volunteers I loved them because they had potatoes at the check-in station. Potatoes!! So when I am on long runs, the one food item I crave and actually dream of is mashed potatoes. So creamy, so buttery, so potatoe-y. So I happily grabbed a piece of boiled potato, made sure I checked in, and I filled up my water bottle and headed out.

The next section of the race was an out and back. The great thing was this section of the race was all downhill. I was able to coast and use different muscles in my legs. But what wasn’t so great was watching the people struggling coming up the hill I was now running down. I knew what lie ahead, but I stayed in the moment and enjoyed this part of the course.

At the end of the downhill was another steep climb which led to Crazy Jug Point. It was another lookout point, and it was a check-in station. The view just opened up and the vastness of the Grand Canyon could be seen. The red and tan layers of rocks spread out like a buffet. The base of the Kaibab National Forest was covered in green trees and reddish- orange dirt. I stood mesmerized just for a moment to take it in. The view, the air, the joy, the pride, the gratefulness. I said a silent thank-you to the Great Spirit and bowed my head. Then, I marked my bib with the red marker to show I had visited the check-in station, and I was on my way again.

Since this was the out and back section, runners were now headed in both directions, and all the different runners in each race had started to cross paths. The beauty of racing is the camaraderie. With every last runner I passed, we exchanged encouraging words, “Nice job! Keep going! You’re doing great! Good work! You got this!” Some people even offered heartfelt smiles and high-fives. There was a feeling of unity and understanding because we were all in this together. We were having the same shared experiences.

I knew the downhill I just enjoyed was turning into an uphill now. So I turned my run into a fast-paced hike again and just settled into my new pace. While the start of the race was cold and brisk, it was no longer the case. The sun seemingly laughed and was now showing how bright and hot she really could get. I had a hat on, but I pulled the hood of my running shirt up to protect my ears and neck. It actually trapped a nice breeze that flowed down my back.

The hill finally started to yield, and I was able to pick up my pace again. I ended up at the check-in station that I first checked in at before the out and back section of the race started which meant I had boiled potatoes waiting for me again. I made sure to check-in, fill up my water bottle and grabbed a potato. I started down the trail that would eventually lead me to the finish line.

A mountain biker who had unfortunately came out for a ride on this day was trapped among all the racers, but he offered me the best news I had heard all day, “This last part of the trail is all downhill.” I made him promise me he wasn’t lying, and he was convincing enough. So I trusted him, and luckily he was right.

My legs were tired and the day had turned hot, but this was a great section of trail. I had the whole trail to myself. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, and there was no one behind me either. I was left with my thoughts, the trail, the shade trees and the sunshine.

As I continued my journey down the trail, I started to see runners who had finished the race already and were walking back to their campsites scattered throughout the woods. They shared words of encouragement, “You are almost there! Nice work.” I picked up the tempo of my feet and started to push even harder. I heard another runner who had completed the race say, “You’re almost there; it’s right around the corner. Finish strong!” Just as the runner had stated, the trail suddenly opened and I could see the finish line and the race tents.

As my sweat dripped down and the trail dirt stuck to me, I was covered in proof of my accomplishment as I passed under the finish sign while my fellow runners clapped.

Crucial Connection

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Being an Adventurer-Explorer doesn’t strictly mean traveling for me. It also includes staying connected to the things I love and exploring them in different ways. I also like to try new things and have new experiences. So part of my journey has not only been to see as many places as I can but to follow my whims. I spent a vast majority of my life trying to please others, and I lost myself somewhere in the process. I am the dusty trunk in the attic waiting to be opened with all the forgotten treasures inside. So I have been trying to rediscover myself. I don’t like to say I want to find myself because I never lost myself; I never went anywhere. But I did hide away in the dark corners of myself, and now I just need to coax myself out.

I first started to focus on the things I knew I already loved and enjoyed. Those activities that made me spontaneously smile, feel peace, and made me feel like I had just been birthed into a bright, new world. Since July 2008, I have been a runner. It has spoken to me like a lover whispering a secret. The way I feel on a run when the sun is smiling down, the sky is filled with white puffs of clouds, the breeze is blowing, and my leg muscles are churning is unmatched by anything else in my life. The meditative pounding of my feet and the interaction and connectivity with nature genuinely makes me feel like a balloon that may burst from being too full.

In July 2015, I started a regular yoga practice. I have been lucky to find yoga studios that spoke to my heart. In Colorado, I went to Cambio Yoga Studio, and here in Oregon I go to Seaside Yoga. I can’t even begin to explain all the principles of yoga that have crept into my daily life. On and off the mat, I am able to practice being fully present and attentive in a moment, breathing deeply, and to accept where and who I am at that exact time, not even to mention the strength and flexibility I have gained. To have yoga teachers who know how to reach inside their students and pull out all the light and the shadows and have them harmonize together and to have their students come back and crave more peace, more self-acceptance, and more love is a special gift.

Since I was a child, I have always loved the water. I have a kinship to the ocean, but I love being out on the lakes and rivers as well. I think my initial love of boating came from my dad. He was an avid fisherman, and I learned pretty quickly that the best way to spend time with him was being out on the bass boat fishing. Then I had the opportunity to kayak, and I fell in love with it. My first kayaking experience was in March 2008 in New Zealand when we kayaked through the Marlborough Sounds to Lochmara Lodge. To be out on the rocking waves seeing seals lazily strewn across the rocks, penguins coasting through waves, and jellyfish with long tentacles flowing behind showed me there was no other way to explore or experience water. It was like sneaking into a movie my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to watch. I was exposed to a previously forbidden world that I never would have seen if not for kayaking. So in April 2015, I bought my own kayak. I have continued to kayak lakes and rivers encountering eagles, deer, sea lions, hawks, cows and goats, and just the beauty of the landscape itself.

Which leads me to all the activities that I have just recently discovered. Over the past 7 months, I have started to explore things that piqued my interest. One of those things was art. I have never been an “artist.” If I had any sort of artistic talent the closest thing I have is writing. But somehow I was drawn to art. Even though previously I would classify myself as one of those people who could barely draw a stick figure, I wanted to break that limitation I set for myself. I wanted to crack that mindset. I wanted it to be more about the feeling of creating than the actual final outcome. So I have taken an acrylic painting class, a drypoint class, and a collage class. When I am working on a piece of art, I am completely enthralled. It is like a mother consumed with her newborn baby. I have never had my mind so quiet. I have never been so present and involved in an activity. One of the only ways I can explain it is like being in a trance; it is hypnotic for me. I will be working on a project and the teacher will say, “We have about 30 minutes left.” I look down at my watch, and 3 hours have passed. Art transports me to a creative world where I am free. It has helped me break down walls I have set. Those walls that say, “I can’t do this; I am not an artist. I don’t know how to paint” or “I have never done or even heard of drypoint before.” Now, I just let myself be and create.

The other activity I have found that has challenged me but also helped me unlock a new side of myself is belly dancing. I have always had an interest in belly dancing, but I never pursued it. I never knew where to pursue it. Then one day, I was walking my dog and we passed by the Astoria Arts and Movement Center and there was a sign in the window for belly dancing. When I saw that sign, I knew I had to go. I have never taken a dance class in my life. Well unless you count the few months of ballet in 2nd grade. But I love to express myself through movement. I may or may not have weekly 80’s and 90’s dance parties in my living room.

I think the first lesson that became clear was belly dancing required me to let go. I am driven and competitive which makes me always want to be the best at what I do. But the more I stressed and tensed up, the less I was able to do in class. I always have high expectations for myself. In belly dancing, my body was learning things it had never attempted before: ¾ shimmy walk, body rolls, and hip twists in relevè with my left arm down framing my hip and my right arm up curved above my head. I found myself getting frustrated at first. Instead of connecting with the music and my body, I was fighting my own body and mindset. I found myself saying, “I can’t do this. My body just won’t do this.” It finally clicked that I first needed to just let go of perfection, and all I needed to do was practice. It took me several weeks to finally be able to do a hip twist in relevè, and it is still a move I am working on. Then I was introduced to the ¾ shimmy walk. In a very fast tempo the right hip must go up, down, and then out then the left hip repeats this motion. This continues back and forth to each hip while I have to try and walk. Right now, I am unable to do it very well. But after two months of taking classes, I have eased up on myself. I do the best I can in class then I go home and practice but even more important I connect with my body.

The second lesson I learned, which stems from what I learned in my art classes, was belly dancing is about feeling. It is about being present on the dance floor, feeling my feelings and conveying feelings. I may not have the best ¾ shimmy walk, but if I am connected to the music, to myself, and to the audience (when applicable) that is the most important thing. I have not always been the best at connecting to my feelings or to my body, but it is something I have been actively working on for years. Belly dancing was another avenue for me to work on it. I have went from fighting with my body to appreciating the muscles that move rhythmically with the music and seeing my growth with every class I take. Now I see it is more about feeling good than being good.

I think the most exciting and surprising thing for me is I have agreed to perform our 4 minute belly dancing choreography at the Liberty Theater with 8 other women for Astoria Pride in a few weeks.

I can only hope to embrace my beauty, my body, and the music and let myself just be.