Picking my way up a trail obscured by head sized rocks, I boiled with impatience at “this obnoxious slippery bullshit”. Checking my watch for the millionth time, I cringed at my pace, resolved to make it a quarter mile before the next check, and wished again for the trail to smooth out.
Nodding to families and scout troops, I pulled out my best smiley hiker-passing face and wondered how much our paces actually differed. Training for a trail 50 has long since resigned me to hiking sustained steep trails, but I was scared to a snails’s pace because I value my ankles, and breathing so easily on a long climb rankled.
How did that nice local hiker at the bike shop think this was reasonably runnable??? It was easy to follow, but even at a walk, the trail required 100% focus. With every new stretch of jumbled rock and submerged logs, I considered abandoning Mt. Marcy, told myself that 2,500ft gain in a long “run” was good training even at turtle-race-pace, and stubbornly pushed on for the summit, holding out hope for better trail.
The last half mile was a satisfyingly steep scramble to a 360 degree view and winds that threatened to send my windbreaker on a one way flight as I pulled it on. Pulling my gaze from the unmoving send bar on my update text, I resolved to abandon the doomed fight to make my rendezvous. I knew the trail back, I knew I was five or more miles from consistent runnable terrain, so I may as well appreciate the green waves of the Adirondacks and the sunlight striking alpine zone mosses and scrub pines.
But as soon as I dipped back below tree line and passed the last full mile of runnable trail before the Mt. Marcy dam, I descended quickly into childish mental grumbling. Even in the moment I realized I was being unreasonable. The trail I tromped should be featured in magazines and guidebooks of the east, a softly lit tunnel in shades of green and silver.
I never thought I’d be a watch-checker, but my brain was stuck repeating a too short playlist. Check watch, estimate finish time, worry James didn’t get my new ETA, apply new swear words to the trail, remind myself to LOOK UP, wonder when I’d reach the dam, check watch. Like working out a to-do list in a yoga class, every time I found the present, I lost it.
Reaching the smooth trail at Marcy’s Dam was like coming up for air. My tired legs seemed to fly downhill (at 10 minute pace), and I bubbled with new love for all trail maintenance crews. Then I ran past the whale and smack into the realization that a slow run for me was a lot of extra hours for James to worry, and I probably should’ve taken that into account while I was busy being selfish.
Appreciating the moment is work. Adapting your expectations is work. Being humble is work. Being considerate is work. And clearly, I’ve got a long way to go. But trails are good teachers, and though I may have failed this lesson, at least I showed up for class.
Days later, I read a Backpacker article on the struggle to accommodate both rim-to-rim runners and canyon backpackers in Grand Canyon. As competitive runners seek epic long runs, a flood of watch-checkers with questionable trail etiquette raises management issues across the park system. Even as I was drawn to every ultra-distance loop mentioned, I frowned on the single-mindedness of the problem runners. James and I agreed that they’re missing the point, and I thought a little guiltily of my attitude on the Mt. Marcy trail. Granted, trail traffic had been pretty light and I’d made a point to be polite and follow all posted restrictions, but my head space put me firmly in the camp of people missing beauty in a search for numbers. Thanks for the wake up call, universe. In the last few weeks of training for Run Rabbit, I’m not just renewing my resolve to be more consistent, but also to take my eyes off my watch and off the ground. Completing a 50 mile run is a big audacious goal and I’m still not sure I can make it happen, but I am sure that this journey, experiencing this country and the wonder of its wild lands, and being a partner vs. an individual, mean a lot more than box checking.
I may forget on occasion, but gratitude, consideration, love and enthusiasm are a surer path to joy than a long list of accomplishments. So, next time I seek a challenge on the trails, I’ll remember to meet the challenge I find, not the one I went looking for. And most importantly, I’ll remember to respect others experiences in parks and wild spaces, because they belong to us all, to enjoy, and to protect.