Foggy Summits

Some of my favorite hikes don’t lead to a view.  

Not even a decent lookout.  They really are phenomenal.  I love those hikes when you bust your back for miles on end, preferably in the rain and cold, up the unforgivingly steep, half-maintained, technical and straightshot trails of the White Mountains, only to reach the top, muscles aching and wanting nothing more than a good rock to sit on, and you find yourself standing in the middle of a bunch of trees, next to a miserable-looking pile of rocks that is supposed to denote a summit, and not a good rock or a view to be found.  Shivering, you about-face and tromp your butt back down the trail as soon as you’ve caught your breath, preferably slipping and cursing most of the way down.

Yeah, those are some of my favorites.

In fact, it almost irks me at times when I reach a summit on a cloudy day, and as I stare off into the infinite expanse of impenetrable gray that I have worked so hard to enjoy, I hear people down the trail make remarks of disappointment and reluctant promises to themselves to ‘come back another day’.  

First of all, I agree, they should come back.  You should always come back.  But damn, why would you hike in the first place if it was such torture to do it?

I like these viewless, cloudy summits because they represent life in some ways.  Sometimes, you are going to bust your a**, and not get the slightest reward.  So it goes.  But you still did it, and on those occasions it is important to remind yourself:

  1. Did I accomplish what I set out to do?
  2. Did I enjoy doing it?
  3. Did I learn something?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then the hike was probably ‘worth it’.  I come back to some previous ponderings about ends and means.  If you hike as a means to the end of looking at a view, then maybe I just don’t understand well enough, but I am sorry for you.  If you are one of those people, I challenge you to find what is interesting along the hike.  What types of forest are you walking through?  What other hikes does it remind you of?  What does it smell like walking through a stand of hemlock trees (hemlocks are my favorite :))?  I encourage you to remember that every hike can be an adventure, and a learning experience.

Personally, I hope that all of you get to a viewless summit and smile.  I hope that you chuckle at a time in your life that you accomplished something big, nobody noticed, and you felt the warm fulfillment of a task accomplished just the same.  I hope that you stare into the fog and think about how people who have never known the temperamental nature of New England weather couldn’t fathom the beauty of pure fog.  I hope you look out into the mist and imagine what might be out there.  I hope you finish your hike happy.  

I hope you find warmth in the fact that you could’ve easily stayed home but you got after it anyway.  Because after all, from the moment you set foot outside, you had already won.

To all who may read this, remember: It’s not about the view, it’s about the trail that brought you to it, and the trail is the same in sun and in fog.




Going Fast : Going Slow


I’d like to share some of the reflections I have had on some of my previous runs as I continue to fight back from an ankle sprain a few months ago.  This thought has come back to me repeatedly as I continue to notice the way I trail run differently now than I did before the sprain.  

I used to run downhill fast.  Very fast.  Ungodly fast.  Pardon me for leaving all modesty by the wayside in saying this but I say with confidence that I could move very quickly downhill over very technical terrain, and did.  I would categorize this reality mostly as a side effect of brute force and ignorance, with a dash of youthful delusions of invincibility, and the simple reality that a life of being an elite soccer player and thousands of hours spent with a ball at my foot has developed an acute sense of foot-eye coordination that lets me jump onto and off of just about any surface I so desire.  

So during my first foray into trail running I fueled my ego with the eccentric down-hill rock-hopping, with excited mantras like “I am the mountain goat!” flipping frantically through my brains as I jumped from uneven surface to the next rather effortlessly.  I did admittedly scare myself a few times, coming around a corner and jumping on a rock only to find a 12 foot drop over menacing boulders before me, luckily managing to stop on a dime, shoulders well past my toes, teetering one-footed on the precipice and waving my arms around like a poorly constructed wind turbine, holding myself back with sheer core strength, only to then fall forward in a slightly more calculated manner.  A number of times I was close to roughing myself up pretty good.

The ankle sprain happened as fast as any injury does trail running.  Anyone who suffers from the affliction of a relentless desire to run over mountain tops knows how sobering a slip and fall can be, and how fast it jerks you from your trance.  It happens fast.  In my case, I was pursuing some dry ground in March just before another huge snowstorm.  I had a little time in the afternoon and the skiing was to come, so I shot out for one of my favorite low-key loops, White Ledge.  I knew that, after slipping around the snowpack for a few miles with my microspikes, there would be about a half mile or so of dry ground at the top, on the south-facing side.  I was after it.  Microspikes off, barreling down the hillside in my usual cocky and careless manner, I was truly psyched for the trail running season ahead.  Laughing to myself as I jumped from rock to rock, I leapt onto my right foot, slipped on one of those god forsaken oak leaves with the waxy coating from last fall, and caught my left foot on a rock, subsequently twisting it the wrong way and hearing a modest pop.    

The narrative is not the point.  After a few curse words and rolling around in the dirt for a few minutes, I limped my way out at a brisk pace, recognizing my lack of layers, sweat-covered body, cold temperatures, and wishing to make the most of the fleeting gift of adrenaline.   

However, the point is how it popped my invincibility bubble and changed me as a runner in the aftermath.

After a long road of recovery that is still not 100% complete, I still run much slower downhill.  I know that I can barrel down a hillside like a mad man on the loose, but I choose not to (most often).  I am much more calculated, I don’t jump on the ridiculous pointy rocks, I notice the oak leaves, I am careful for wet stone.  Besides, it is probably better not to juice my muscles so quickly on the longer runs that I aspire to.  

The point I keep coming back to, to which I alluded at the beginning of this entry, is that by running slower, I am less apt to make those reckless mistakes and injure myself.  For injury is NOT how you end up running faster.  By taking my time I can avoid injury and ensure that I can run tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year.  This more sustainable approach to running will be better for both my body and my training, and I’ll end up a faster runner in the long-term because of it.

Now, whenever I run downhill, I slow down just a bit, and pay extra attention to the hazards and my own naïvete, knowing that I’ll be able to run more mountains, faster, because of it.  
I run slower so that I can run faster.