I looked at my once caged mind from the other side of the fence.
On my first attempt running up the Bears Ears I saw nothing but the blank white wall of a blizzard and strong winds slapping me in the face. It matched how I felt that February morning–cold, alone, sad and blind to everything in front of me and behind me. Today, I reached the plateau greeted by sunshine and an almost alpine world filled with spring flowers, chirping birds and views into endless new trails to take into the horizon. The scene matched my current state of mind–warm, content, free, beautiful and open to endless possibility. Knowing that every direction is mine…
“In many so-called primitive cultures it is a requirement or tribal initiation to spend a lengthy period of time alone in the forests or mountains, a period of coming to terms with the solitude and non-humanity of nature so as to discover who, or what, one really is—a discovery hardly possible while the community is telling you what you are, or ought to be.”–Alan Watts
In fact the other side is far more beautiful than I could imagine that stormy day when I yelled to the sky, “What am I doing here?” as it threw icey snow in my face, taunting me, jesting back, “You can run….but you cannot hide…you will suffer…alone.” And it was actually the most alone I have ever been in my life. 30 years of siblings, roommates, relationships, dogs were now replaced with complete solitude. I did not make human contact with anyone for a day. No one except my parents had any clue where I was (and even then they were unsure about the location of this Bears Ears place). To add insult, my food and water kept freezing and I ate four days of dinner rations in one meal (I forgot how hungry running and being cold make me). Despite the self-induced suffering, I kept running all over the place–up the snowy pass, down the highway, in and out of dead end singletrack–crying, laughing and trying to salvage an experience of some kind for the story I was writing at the time. It seemed highly unlikely that I would ever return to such an inhospitable and unwelcoming place, let alone write about it. But then the circles began and I found myself repeatedly returning to Bears Ears without much premeditation. It all came back to me….
The March full moon rose above the winding bumpy Moki Dugway when dawned on me where I was going on a spur of the moment climbing trip. Eventually the backlit Bears Ears filled the frame of my front window, and although there was no sunlight and I was not actually running, I cried out at the spirits above. After a few days of crack climbing, shenenigans and a run to The House of Fire (a route I originally intended to cover solo just two weeks prior) the second coming to Bears Ears felt like warmer ironic redemption as I danced down the trails with the biggest smile on my face. No longer alone or cold, but rather surrounded by sunshine and new friends, I marveled not only at the rich history of the area, but at the deep realization that this place is still very much spiritually alive.
Top photo–new friend and big wall climbing badass Lizzy Scully (Photo by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder).
On Easter Sunday I rose for the third time in the monument and finally ran up the Bears Ears plateau into an unexpected alpine world hidden high above the red rocks and canyons of the desert below. It was another solo mission but this time I did not feel alone. Instead I felt, for the first time in months, a strange sense of home. That familiar feeling when you awake and can make coffee on autopilot, stretch out and smile because it’s “church of sunday long run” and take your time to sip your brew and prep for said run because you are cozy, confident and content.
I smiled throughout the climb, sang songs in my head, ate cookies, bushwhacked up the actual Bears Ears, splashed in the mud puddles that are the remnants of that February blizzard. I let the miles come to me and slip away quickly, knowing full well that anything worthwhile will fly free and return in a new form with untold stories waiting to be shared. I stood inside the Bears Ears and let the wind leaned in to whisper something faintly nostalgic like returning home to a warm meal, the crackling of a wood stove fire, an embrace from your lover, your dog wiggling its tail like mad when you walk through the door. Sometimes our home chooses us.