The Running Bum

Running Wild With Words

I didn’t even come to Silverton to watch Hardrock 100.

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It was 3 am on Saturday morning and as I hiked in the dark through frigid streams carrying two packs filled with aid station supplies, half a dozen mashed potato burritos, a bivvy sack and my ultra-light backpacking coffee maker the only thing that made sense to me was that I finally lost my mind. But then again, I love this shit. –>Mo randomly drives to small mountain town, immediately makes new friends, gets sucked into a new adventure.<–When I arrived at the alpine aid station I bypassed the 5 people strewn between the media tent and a meager campfire and walked over to some tall grass. I pulled out my bivvy, took off my wet shoes and crawled in for what I hoped might be some semblance of a nap.

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“Did somebody say Jamil?” I sat up upright and attentive as if I never slept a wink (does 10 minutes count?) Gina (Lucrezi) laughed, “I said for real.” Oh well, awake as can be I decided to trust my instincts and stay awake for game time. After all, at 83 miles into the race Jamil Coury nor his pacer Mike Versteeg could afford to miss any of the precious supplies I had pack-muled from Ophir up through the woods.

Ask any trail/mountain/ultra runner about the holy grail of races and Hardrock 100 will ALWAYS make the list. Sure I’ve heard of the event before but, being so very new to this sector of running, I never knew what it actually meant–the 33,000 feet of vert, the week long party the precedes the race (including not one but TWO beer miles), the insane lottery system that makes getting an entry tougher than even covering the 100 miles of mostly alpine terrain between 9,300 and 14,000+ feet elevation. Basically as a former middle distance runner this event flew off my radar into the category of bat shit crazy.

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My original game plan in Silverton, Colorado was to spend the month of July training high and living simply to get ready for the Kendall Mountain Race on July 22nd. I signed up for the race in February not even knowing that the event climbs up (and back down) a 13er. Clearly I live by the philosophy that ignorance is bliss…or perhaps I know better and there is no use planning too much because the wild life constantly chooses me and I simply need to always be at the ready to roll with it. Anyways, in the spring I interviewed Kendall Mountain race director Jamil Coury for a story I wrote for REI about his affinity for mashed potato burritos during races. Fast forward to July 13th (Hardrock Eve) and I was making a mountain of the burritos, like a dirtbag catering service, and prepping to crew (solo) my first 100 ever for someone I just met. How the sun and moon aligned for this to happen is a story for another time, but between my expertise at making cold burritos, crewing my Mom for extreme cycling races in the mountains and my spontaneous nature  I knew I was the right woman for the job.

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The day began with a pre-dawn wake up call to load up the supplies (a dozen mashed potato burritos, a plethora of Gu’s new toasted Marshmallow gel, NuttZo, Mas Korima cookies and last minute searches for Salomon soft flasks), walking “all the way” across town to the start and then watching 150 runners embark on their 100 mile journey. I hit the road to the first aid station, Cunningham at mile 9, and enjoyed the sunrise amongst many friends I’ve made in the running world which is something I appreciate most in this sport–no matter where I go I have some crazy family members to hang with. Case in point, immediately after Jamil passed through the station in 65th and took burrito #1 I hit the road with Celia from Gu and filmmaker Billy Yang to cook up a breakfast feast. Once properly stuffed I traded Scott Johnston/Uphill Athlete workout war stories with Luke Nelson and then pranced off on a run with Clare Gallagher. By the time I returned it was time to wake pacer number 1 up from his hangover inside his house (aka Van) and hit the road to the mile 43 aid station at Grouse.

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In no danger of being late to resupply and link up with our runner, Mike and I found ourselves in a crash course of getting to know each other as we avoided the rain for four hours sitting inside the Jeep as my yellow caravan quickly became the social hub of the entire aid station. As everyone else convened around the Jeep while getting soaking wet, Mike and I stayed dry and entertained with a few rounds of Hangman, I spy, knife wielding dance parties, beer, yelling at one-armed monster Kilian Jornet, creating a support group AND a reality TV show. If anyone can handle tight quarters like these it’s two 30 year old dirtbags living out of their vehicles. Hours later game time arrived. Mike pranced down the road to join Jamil in 25th position while I set up a burrito buffet with enough snacks to get him Ouray.

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Already 4pm I stopped in town to pick up a pizza and then hit the Million Dollar Highway to the next aid stop. I quickly realized how much driving crewing a 100 miler involved but I figured it would be a great way for me to get to know the new hood since I plan to hang around here for a while. Once in Ouray I linked up with pacer #2, Schuyler Hall to help him warm up properly for his leg of the journey with some track drills. Jamil ran into the park, still freaking smiling, swapped some gear and loaded up another burrito. Listening to his stories about running through hail storms and over 14ers all day made me really wish I had opted to pace him and prance around in meadows singing songs, laughing and telling stories together, but then I reverted my brain back to business mode–someone has to be the bearer of burritos after all.

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(You can catch the footage of this and his race in this unique video that he actually made while racing.

Schuyler and Jamil hit the trail while Mike and I jumped in the Jeep and fought the urge to fall asleep en route to Telluride by blasting a mix of 2 Chainz and Queens Of The Stone Age.

Once at the next aid station we figured we had a few hours to spare and catch some sleep. It took a while for the adrenaline rush of driving under the influence of exhaustion to ware off and we maximized the loopiness by igniting the next super athlete fan craze–#KilianingIt. It was hysterical for 5 minutes for us at least, then we cracked open some Sufferfest beers and promptly passed out (with them in hand and still mostly full) in the park grass like the hobos we actually are.

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At home in my element (on the ground outside) I felt as though I actually fell asleep, but it probably was not more than 10 minutes before I got a call from Jamil’s sister that he was nearing town. I doubted it (because at 1 am that would mean he was an hour ahead of pace from the last station) but I walked over to the staging area in my delirium to scope it out. 5 minutes later I turned around and there was Jamil sprinting, now in 8th place. Oh shit. I faked being awake and coherent, threw open his bag, spread out all the snacks onto the ground, tucked another burrito into his pack and started running back to the grass to wake up Mike who actually didn’t believe me that Jamil arrived. Despite being a less than organized crew it all came together, also likely because Jamil is both a super relaxed person and is a total 100 miler pro who does other totally mad races like Barkley. Before Jamil took off he looked at me and in a very serious tone asked, “See you in Ohpir?” Yeah, fuck being tired. I clearly had my most important mission of the night ahead of me.

Despite drinking one of Jamil’s drop bag Monster energy drinks (the first of my life–disgusting), I made a few wrong turns on the drive delaying my arrival in Ohpir for a night hike and forest nap. I grabbed Jamil’s duffel bag (now not only stuffed with fuel, but also dirty wet socks, camera gear and even a bedazzled white dress shirt which I wore to simply celebrate its strange existance) in addition to the official burrito-pack (also containing my bivvy sack and emergency coffee supplies). Again, I didn’t sleep much (10 minutes max) and when Jamil and Mike ran in it was a very different scene than the previous 83 miles. Jamil was in good spirits, but clearly tired ( I wonder why) and nauseous. The goal of the next 30 minutes–keep him awake (his Achilles heel in long races) and make him eat. He asked me to tell him about my day (probably the last thing I expected someone in this stage of racing to request), so I told lots of silly stories while he choked down some vegan ramen and charged his Suunto watch (which would later cause a serious wrist injury–his only ache from this entire ordeal).

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Because I am a competitor by nature and a team player (#TeamMashedPotatoBurrito) here I made a deal with the devil to boost morale–no more naps for me if he promised not to nap. I would stay awake through the night AND even run my hill interval workout on Kendall Mountain before he finished to suffer ever so slightly in solidarity. He took off running into the night with Mike and I immediately questioned my sanity as I hiked back over the rivers and through the woods to the Jeep as the sun rose over the stunning peaks surrounding me.

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As it turns out Jamil still had several more hours of running ahead of him and no more requests for me to deliver the burritos, so I ate one. Even over 24 hours later and a bit soggy it was delicious.

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I took off to Kendall and somehow hammered out an amazing workout. I looked over the road at the stunning vistas and let my imagination drift off and envision myself racing up the wild and tough peaks and valleys of Hardrock. WTF is wrong with me? Is this was over 24 hours of sleep deprivation does to you or am I really thinking I’ll race 100 miles someday? High above the town of Silverton I faced a truth I have always known since I was a little kid–I want to run and romp and eat snacks in the mountains all day and never have to go back inside (which is why I live in my Jeep). I also love to race. Crewing for this race was far from random, far from planting a seed. I unlocked a truth and a dream from deep within me that I was never ready to look at, let alone nurture until now. Just two weeks before I walked down the main street of Silverton with the strange feeling of arriving, like a homecoming, and this was it.

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As the clock marched into the 29th hour we got word that Jamil was closing in on the finish. This would be a massive PR, his first top 10 finish and a huge personal victory for him after a challenging year with less than optimal training. Sure, everyone wants to be on a team with a winner, but this is the kind of shit I live for. A team of burrito eating misfits digging deep to squeeze out the best experience possible during a deranged sufferfest in the mountains. Jamil’s smile boldly stated all of this as he literally sprinted in towards the finish line towards his son and ran the final 100 meters with him in hand before kissing the coveted rock.

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Post-race Team Mashed Potato Burrito sat in a stooper in an alcove just off the road. We drank gin from a flask delivered by one of Mike’s groupies and traded more stories from the last 29 hours of life that seemed to be both infinite and pass by in a flash. And yes, we did finally take a looooong nap (6 hours) followed by a unanimous decision to get our grub on with, you guessed it, another burrito.

 

Waking up in a massive sleigh shaped bed at a 5-star resort was the last thing on my mind when I froze my running bum off sleeping on the ground under 5 billion stars in Bears Ears National Monument this spring. But that is exactly (or partially) how I found myself at Deer Valley resort in June to attend Outdoor Press Camp among some of the leading editors, writers and brands in the outdoor industry.

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The inclusive and intimate event is a direct contrast to summer OR and gives attendees an actual opportunity to dig into the finer details of presenting brands via one on one meetings that are much longer than 15 minutes, ample time to socialize (and sit) during gourmet catered meals and an entire afternoon off to play outside and test gear. I even got to ride the chair lift UP the mountain to go for a run!

Fellow freelancer Aaron Bible tipped me off about the event (totally joking that it might be a nice way for me to get a shower since I’m “homeless” aka living a beautiful life of freedom out of my Jeep Wrangler) and connected me with event coordinator Kenji Haroutunian. It only took one email exchange between Kenji and I to realize that I needed to be a part of second annual event, not only for my background in the running industry and trail specialization, but because of my time spent living in Bears Ears. Kenji sits on the Board of Directors for the Access Fund, and played an instrumental role in growing and shaping Outdoor Retailer into what it is today. Given the media invite list Kenji took advantage of the opportunity to integrate the very timely issue of public lands, and specifically Bears Ears, into the event in order to inform the media with balanced viewpoints and access to voices and leaders at the forefront of the issue including…….Politics aside, we both felt that despite Bears Ears prevalence in the outdoor media, the stories, sources and even visuals that are being pushed out are largely the same. He gave me the opportunity to present a slide show with some of my favorite images from exploring Bears Ears while sharing my story about what it’s like to actually be an athlete, writer and activist living on ground zero.

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The opportunity came at an ideal time as REI re-released my original story about my experience “Running To The Sunrise” in Bears Ears. While there is nothing I love more than waking up on the ground next to a trail head in the desert as the sun rises over distant peaks, staying at Deer Valley and sleeping in a super comfortable bed during this time felt like an immense treat, the frosting on an already delicious cake.

Getting a chance to listen to the viewpoints of the Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, President of Outdoor Recreation Thomas Adams, UTE PAC Director Robert Lucero and Tribal Council Member Moroni Benally tossed on the sprinkles and then getting to interact with them and even brainstorm about critical issues with them was washing it all down with a cold beer. Poolside and dressed in my fancy pants, I soaked in the experience more rapidly than high altitude sun rays–fully knowing that this experience was born out of the magic that is the Bear.

During the remainder of the week at Press Camp I enjoyed some serious one on one time with innovation leaders in the outdoor industry. The full attendee list can be found here, and given the topics I cover in my writing and for personal use I especially enjoyed meeting with Altra Running (love at first lace up and I’m picky), Tentsile (tree tents!), Camp Chef (aka my future Dirtbag dream kitchen), Oboz Hiking Boots and Sandals (with a rad design story out of Montana), Ryder Sunglasses (lens technology is on point for trail running), Swiss Army Knife/Victorinox (I’ll be cutting cheese, wind shields and brush like a pro), CamelBak (primo fitting hydration solutions) and Boulder Denim (life changing since I never wore jeans until now–these are like yoga pants).

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When I wasn’t in meetings I immersed myself into “resort life” to fully recover and rest up for upcoming big training blocks in the mountains which meant indulging in all of the amazing food, max pool time and even getting a pedicure with Oboz and the other ladies attending the event.

I left Press Camp with a much richer experience than I have ever had at a trade show and the creative gears in my head had enough time to properly churn and come up with future project ideas. The trip to Park City marked the last official destination in my insane 4 week travel/event line up: Bears Ears Gu Media Trip at the end of May, New Hampshire for the U.S. Mountain Running Championships, drive from new Hampshire to Boulder, Creede and CO to race with a donkey and write about it. In all I traveled through 13 states this month and ran in 9 mountain ranges. I have more stories to write than I have hours in 7 days, a smile on my face, a Swiss Army suitcase packed with sick gear to ensure I’m ready for anything and TONS of new friends. But you know what I left Park City thinking about the most–I need to get back to Bears Ears. There is much work to be done there both politically and personally. It is no longer a mystery why I continue to feel called to return. Going to Bears Ears is going home.

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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…

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“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….

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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.

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Top photo–new friend and big wall climbing badass Lizzy Scully (Photo by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder).
Morgan Sjogren, House of Fire, Mule Canyon, Bears Ears NM, UT

Morgan Sjogren, House of Fire, Mule Canyon, Bears Ears NM, UT PC: Andrew Burr

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.

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I finally feel the constant buzz of being a displaced outcast with a spinning head and a broken heart dissipate.

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I sit on the floor and on the ground outside for hours, the longest stretch of stillness for me in months (many months). I allow the weight of gravity to hold me in place. I sip Gin and Tonics while painting the brightest glittering psychedelic desert scenes I can dream up to take myself into an almost mushroom like trance. I write and face the raw honesty of my own black words against the white screen. I finish that goddamn book that I’ve been carrying like an extra weight for months. For now I am far far away from the problems and pain of all those yesterdays that never seem to get better. Real solitude is an essential component of life for the creative mind.

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Eclectic, random and isolated tiny homes in the desert are seeking me. I may be a nomad, but everyone needs a space of refuge to call home, even if only for a weekend. This one, out of them all perhaps suits me best. It is so hand-made that not a single board, line, pipe, window or painted wall inside is straight. (Evil spirits travel in straight lines is one of my favorite zen proverb. Or did I just make that up?) There are old drawers rudely hammered together as makeshift panels to create the illusion of rooms in a single wide that features a broken toilet and heatless bathtub inside the kitchen. Perfectionism be damned. There’s a quirky and fearless charm about the place—emerald green walls dotted with constellations of white stars, white twinkling lights strewn around the ceilings (which are so low that even my head nearly touches), children’s paintings tacked in the corners and hand painted artwork on the very trailer itself professing simply, “I love Castle Valley” and “Love.” Which is the actual draw of this place to begin with. To be here is to receive a giant hug from the panoramic wonders of this valley—Castleton, the Rectory, the Nuns, the Priest and the Convent viewed out the front window. Porcupine Ridge out back and the La Sal mountains up the road.

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When night falls the moon is so bright that no lights are needed to cook burgers over the campfire that faces Castleton–a real life palace surrounded by a magic kingdom fit for for a dirtbag queen. The blustery wind ignites drippings of bacon grease into sizzling  fireworks–a reminder that everything that falls away from us will return yet someday, in a new more spectacular form.

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Keep the hope alive.

Run, love, laugh around towers in the sky.

Make the darkness a mirror to your light.

Set your dreams off in flight,

beneath the pink moon,

your life ignites in bloom.

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▲ //I drank the cool fizzy pleasure of making the whole damn desert my canvas;
splashing it with color, drawing crooked lines in the sand and embracing the imperfections that come with truly being free. I ate cake for breakfast, spiked my vodka with pickled tears, watched the world flash past my stillness through Neon colored lenses, threw glitter in the dirt. I found a place to call home in my own body. I turned on the channel to my mind’s eye. I tended to my garden of clouds and stars in the sky. I fell asleep standing up, ready to awake at any moment and run towards my delicious dust storm life.//▲

 

Holy shit. What have I done. Where am I?

I left everything I know to focus on what I know best.

Just two weeks earlier I spent 36 hours in this tiny town I’ve never heard of before in southwest Colorado. I liked it’s charming single block downtown, panoramic mountain views and relatively warm weather for 7,000 feet elevation in March enough but did not anticipate in any way that I’d be spending the month of April altitude training here. It’s funny how one road trip leads to an epic run turns into a climbing trip and suddenly I’m staying with a super rad couple (Sarah and Thor who own and operate Alpacka Raft) whom I met at one dinner party where we feasted on mushrooms, wine and communal tubs of Ben and Jerry’s. Today I woke up in a valley surrounded by nothing but mountains, a front yard pond reflecting a cotton candy sunrise over Mesa Verde National Park and aeropress coffee ground prepared fresh while Thor listens to opera.

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I sip my coffee and flash back to a backpacking trip in the Sierras two summers ago where I chatted my love for wilderness and solitude with a guy on the trail, “Be careful, you’re gunna keep moving farther and farther into the sticks. Mammoth is going to feel like a megalopolis soon!” And it kind of does now. After two months on a remote 13 acre ranch in Arizona I’m now settling into life on 35 acres even farther removed from strip mall society, suburbia and the safety of living a conventional life. Thank fucking goodness.

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I’ve been warned that there isn’t anything to do here in this town of 1,000 people but I wonder what they are talking about? There are endless trails begging me to explore them (including snow free dirt roads at 8,000 feet and singletrack winding through ancient ruins), a bakery lined with Grateful Dead banners to satisfy the fat kid in me, a brewery with a tasty porter, a cute yoga studio, girl’s night shenanigans with Sarah and my new friend Lizzy, a beautiful porch where I can write stories. I’m two hours out from all of my favorite places in eastern Utah. There are no less than 50 singing birds to watch outside the big open windows throughout the day. I am literally growing new red blood cells even when I’m doing nothing at this ideal elevation. The yoga teacher asks us to chant, “I am that. I have arrived. I am home.” Right here, right now I am all of these things. I am.

This region is brimming with ancient history, ruins, art and stories. Ironically, in my current nomadic state, I find myself gravitating to trail runs that take me past archaeological sites and cave dwellings hidden deep within the canyons of the southwest. The ancient Puebloans, who lived their life literally on the edges of these canyons, vanished without a trace and no one to this day knows exactly what happened, where they went or why. What were they running from? As I move past the abandoned homes I instead wonder, “What were they running TO?” I’m still figuring this out for myself, but it seems like the neighborhoods of the ancient ones are surely a stop along my way.

And despite this simplicity and beauty I still I felt myself being overwhelmed by the newness of it all. The freedom of that blank canvas—when I released expectations and planning to let the muse take over life started to get more colorful than I ever imagined.   Rainbow is my favorite color and the spectrum of brilliance is expanding before my wide eyes. Sometimes it’s so bright it feels blinding. The pace towards my dreams began to accelerate to a pace that took my breath away and left my heart racing. Be it running, driving or even sitting in place my life is moving, shaking, dancing, living, breathing. Often I feel so many emotions all at once and it can often feel like too much to bear, comprehend or certainly explain. And then I whisper to myself, “I am that. I have arrived. I am home.” At home in my own body, my own soul. A place on the edge of everything and anything to love and call my own.

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I wanted to lay down on the trail to feel the beautiful strangeness of it all–the cold snow under my back, warm sun kissing my cheeks, limbs kicking the sky and lungs laughing at the irony. I rolled around with the dogs in simple ecstasy, knowing life would never be the same. And then I picked myself up….and I ran.

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I’m standing in front of four neatly stacked brown boxes that are taped shut in my friend’s garage. I have not seen the contents inside of them since I left Mammoth Lakes two months ago, and despite being nearly all of my worldly possessions, they suddenly seem so foreign to me. And like a burden. How could I possibly have so much stuff? Really it’s only clothes, shoes, books and some family heirlooms but despite the minimalism for most folks there is absolutely zero chance that this will all fit in the Jeep. Or that I will actually use them.

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For two months I’ve driven circles around the Southwest (California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and two minutes in New Mexico) essentially living out of the Jeep (and using “The Ranch” in AZ as a basecamp) with only the essentials: my camping gear, running clothes, maps, a journal, a laptop, three books I have not read and a few ridiculous outfits that include tiger print bell bottoms, a black felt hat and moccasin boots (a writer must have her uniform). It quickly became second nature to use less and less in this scenario. In fact I find myself gravitating to the same clothing items over and over again in my purple suitcase (hmmm this doesn’t smell so bad, I’ll just wear it again) needing less and less of the less I brought along. With each mile of tarmac or dirt road that rolls behind the Jeep I slowly forget what I even have in my trunk. I strip down to the only things that matter, like the present moment, which are already on my body….in my body.

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Moving around from place to place incites the explorer in me. To turn a corner or crest a hill and see something I’ve never seen before. That’s how you start a trip in Southern Utah and “somehow” end up in Moab….or Durango in less than one week. Along the way I’ve undoubtedly seen things that I am stricken by, inspire me or perhaps even love–singletrack trails, silky sand dunes, soaring hawks, moon rises, beautiful people and coffee shops with the most amazing cinnamon rolls in the world. But like the fleeting rainbow colors of each sunrise and sunset I know that I cannot posses any of this. I will have to let go and keep moving as is the way of the nomad. Trying to hold on to each place or people I meet along the way is as far-fetched as fitting anymore gear into the Jeep than is already stuffed there. Like running with every beautiful piece of rose quartz or obsidian I find on the trail stuffed into my pockets.

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And so I fall madly in love with each sparkling moment until it becomes so magical that it BURSTS! I watch the bright flames flicker and jump until they eventually smolder and burn down as I run on and let them go. But that feeling of smoke hitchhikes with me in every pore, strand of hair and thread of cloth wherever I roam. And even when that fades I can’t wash those moments from my memory and heart (and of course my journal and camera roll too). The smell of a campfire can transport me back to sleeping in a cave in Utah, the sound of a hawk to the day I first left the Sierras, a chill against my skin to rolling around in the snow with Matty and Roam, the squish of mud beneath my feet to a spontaneous evening spent at Grand Falls, the taste of coffee to each amazing sunrise I’ve woken to in so many gorgeous new places.

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Rather than going through all of my possessions and weighing the pros and cons of how much I need or want each thing, I’m taking a different route. I’m setting aside ONLY what I need and from that only the things that I love and need (or need to live). The rest, no matter how much it pulls on my heart strings, is just not possible to carry along. To move quickly through the wilderness one must travel light, and the same is true of life. In letting go of my tight grip on these things, and places and even people, I’m not erasing their significance. Oh no, quite the opposite. I love them all enough to set them free. I’m also placing my trust in the notion that there are many more beautiful moments ahead, that the universe will provide. I own (almost) nothing and yet my life lacks nothing. An empty glass begs to be filled. A full glass may overflow, but it can never hold on to more than it’s capacity.

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Oh but what about love? Love is not a thing that can be held. Love is all around us. Love must be released, shared and allowed to blow with the wind. When it’s really love, any way shape or form of love, it always comes back to us. 10 fold. Maybe not in the ways that our culture teaches us that love means, but if we tune our instruments (our hearts and souls) we can feel it’s vibrations all around us…..

“The empty blue sky of space says ‘All this comes back to me, then goes again, and comes back again, then goes again, and I don’t care, it still belongs to me.” –Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

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On my last morning in Arizona the sky set itself ablaze, not from any force but its own. The orange glow burned strong, I turned my back and walked down the golden road and thought, all this may fade but it never goes away.

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“Instead of loneliness, I feel loveliness.”–Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

I awake with a buzzing feeling that urges me to leap out of bed and run out the front door. It’s worth it. The sun lights up the sky in a panoramic rainbow of colors. With no other nearby buildings other than the small cabin and larger barn, Lucky 13 Acres welcomed me to this remote corner of northern Arizona with a Bob Ross episode all to myself. Matty, Roam and I leaped over fallen piñon logs, cacti and the occasional animal bone. This spectacular place is where we will call basecamp for the next….

-7

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The morning ranch rituals continue as follows: wake up with the dogs laying on top of me (often with a strategically placed bum in my face) at the glint of first light. Turn on the stove to boil water for the first cup of coffee before heading out to let the dogs pee. Usually by the time I hear the tea kettle whistle it’s time to go back in a make myself a single pour over cup of coffee (slow, but there is nothing better) and then take the cup back outside to watch the electric kool aid acid trip light show that is sunrise over Sedona. My front porch directly frames a view of the red rock oasis with the Bell Rock vortex at bulls eye. Matty and Roam race around the yard chasing birds, rabbits, deer and the occasional javelina.

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In February these mornings were quite cold, or rainy, and I bundle up in many mismatched layers with a pair of gray galoshes to splash around in the thick desert mud that sticks to just about everything in an impossible to remove way. The desert is a habitat that always reclaims what belongs to it in the form of dust storms, flash floods, migrating sand dunes. I feel the mud holding me and the dogs tightly. This is where you need to be.

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The pace of each day marches quicker towards spring, a rhythm you can also move to if you dance with it at the start of each morning. I feel the temperatures warm as peel off one extra layer each day), the flowers bloom, birds chirp and pick at the trees (including the most brilliantly mowhaked red bird I’ve ever laid eyes on) more critters out in the yard and coyotes singing louder than ever. Eventually the desert heat rises and makes me beg for a cool breeze. I spend more and more of my days after that first cup of coffee outside on the porch, in the dirt yard and exploring the trails and hidden secrets of the Coconino National forest that pushes up directly on the property boundaries. By mid-March leaving windows open is not enough. I move my room outside.

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“There are lonely hours. How can I deny it? There are times when solitaire becomes solitary…and the inside of the skull as confining and unbearable as the interior of the house trailer on a hot day. To escape both, I live more and more in the out-of-doors. I dragged the wooden picnic table close to the fireplace and this became my office and dining room. Finally I set up a cot and my home without walls is complete. I can sleep at night with nothing but space between me and the stars, comforted in the knowledge that I am not likely to miss anything important up there.” (EA, Desert Solitaire)

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I wake up on the ground. The familiar feeling of being home. I spent much of my childhood and teenage years sleeping outside under the stars in my backyard in the desert town of Riverside, CA. I always slept better outside on the ground all alone (sometimes my Mom would join me to chat until we drifted off to dream world). The rich black dirt, sludgy like coffee grounds and the deep aroma of Eucalyptus trees that drew my eyes up from the ground towards their skinny tops towards  the clouds and to the place where dreams live. It’s okay to live in the clouds, there your neighbors are dreams. They live in even the harshest and thorny of places, poking and prodding at you to set them free.

“But how, you might ask, does living outdoors on the terrace enable me to escape that other form of isolation, the solitary confinement of the mind?” (Ed again)

Outside the four walls of any structure my senses come alive. I hear the silence, eyes focus in on the darkness lit up brilliantly by the stars and moon (no lights needed), the cool breeze brushes my cheeks and I can feel the beat of my heart playing to the tune of my breath. When I step away from the constructions of the modern human world I am filled with the ancient memory of simply being an animal in outer space. How amazing! My eyelids fall shut in contentment and the smile, perhaps the most special of human abilities, grows across my face. I feel right at home in my dust covered skin.

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