“What’s true for us as individual humans is true for the civilization we create:
a sprint culture, seeking ever greater speed and power in all things cannot endure.”
- Ed Ayres, The Longest Race
There is no finish line. Our fast-paced society has certainly taught us to be goal-oriented, always striving to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, and a host of other qualities that our individualist, Western culture values. When we cross that finish line, whether at a race or in the board room, we immediately turn our attention to the next finish line. All of this is to say that we create artificial targets for ourselves because we think we need them to feel happy, satisfied, and successful. I’m certainly guilty of this, and I”m sure many of you are as well. I am continually setting goals for myself, whether they be running or academic-related. I’ve convinced myself that my identity is shaped by whether or not I achieve those goals. In some ways, I suppose these beliefs have become a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be better than ourselves, or that we shouldn’t derive a sense of satisfaction in achieving something new, exciting, or extreme. We should always take pleasure in those moments. However, I’m realizing, more and more, that we need not define ourselves by those moments. Doing so robs us of the enjoyment that the journey brings, the benefit of the physical and mental growth we receive along the way, and the relationships we build in the process. Who would have thought that a brief injury and a yearly camping trip would have produced such insight, eh?
As you may recall, I managed to injure my back rather successfully a little over a week ago. A subsequent trip to the physical therapist revealed that my issue was in the pelvis, which has apparently decided not to twist forward when I bent over. Not surprisingly, this is quite painful. My pelvis was out of alignment, in part from the injury, but also from extreme tightness in my lower back, and persistent leg issues related to a small length differential. This injury caused the epicurean and I to worry about not being able to embark on our yearly, rejuvenating adventure to the north shore of Lake Superior for some camping, hiking, and disconnecting. Fortunately, my mobility improved in the days following the injury, and we hit the road for Split Rock State Park as soon as I finished my PT appointment. My back was still a bit tender, but I could walk, and was confident that I could get around in the woods with limited difficulty. We had stumbled upon a backpack site in the park last year and immediately fell in love with it. We reserved it as soon as we got home last year, and were excited to revisit this peaceful, secluded oasis nestled on the shore of Lake Superior. There’s really nothing quite like feeling as though you have the whole lake to yourself! It was a short hike (less than a mile) from the parking lot and camp office, yet far enough away from everyone else that we felt as though we had the forest to ourselves.
Although I felt up to traveling, I was still uncertain as to whether I’d be able to enjoy the hiking and trail running that I had been so excited to experience. We arrived late on Wednesday and quickly set up camp before nestling into our tent for the night as the northern sun gave way to the full moon glistening on the glassy waters of Lake Superior. There’s really no substitute for the white noise of the lake as the waves break on the shore. We awoke the next morning and decided on a comfortable hike on the nearby trails to get our bodies moving. This first test of my mobility proved to be a success, and a lovely morning hike was just what we both needed to feel the stress leave us in waves. After lunch, I decided to test my body and head out for my first trail run. I hadn’t run in 5 days, which was the most time I’ve taken off all year, so I was equal parts anxious and excited to lace up my Altra Lone Peaks and tackle the beautiful single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail. It wasn’t long before my legs remembered why I loved trail running and this particular spot in the world so much. There’s truly nothing that compares to finding yourself in the fortunate position of choosing between beautiful wild views and technical single-track that forces you to keep your mind and body focused on the task at hand. This was just the run I needed. Although it had only been 5 days since my last run, it has been a full year since our last trip to Lake Superior, and I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend. The trail greeted my with all of its rocky, rooty excitement and joy. Interestingly, I forgot to pack my Garmin, and although I had my phone stowed away in my pack, I was still running solo. This made the reconnection with my footfalls, balance, and breathing all the more enjoyable. I had a general idea of where I was going, and knew I had to be back for dinner. Other than that, however, it was just me and the trail. There was no finish line.
That 12-mile trail run propelled me into subsequent adventures. The epicurean and I tackled some challenging hikes, and I was able to follow them up with more running and exploring. The elevation I tallied, relative to my everyday miles, was a not-so-subtle reminder of just how flat Iowa is, and now much more intentional I need to be about seeking out the vertical. I was able to explore some new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail this time around as well. I think I fall more and more in love with the trail and area each time I lace up my shoes. Following the coverage of some of the major ultra-running events throughout the summer (Western States, Hardrock, Speedgoat, etc.) has left we dreaming about the mountain trails in the Western U.S. This trip North reminded me of what I still have available in my own “backyard” and left me grateful for the opportunity to explore it with my best friend.
I’m not going to go into great detail on my specific hikes/runs, but will instead let the pictures speak for themselves. At some point during each outing, I had to make the arbitrary decision as to when to turn back towards camp. It was simultaneously tempting and encouraging to know that the trail kept going, even if I didn’t. There was no turn-around point, no cone marking the half-way point, and not signs counting down to the finish. There was just the trail. It’s important to remember that running can be one of the most amazing life-long activities, and I truly hope it is just that for me. I’ll always set goals for myself, and I know there will be more setbacks in the future. However, as long as I can, I’ll continue to lace up my shoes. I’ll continue to force myself to hold back in those opening miles, to focus on my endurance, and to remember…there is no finish line.