Race Sherpa Rises

Race Sherpa Rises

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Mountains are the Terrain of My Soul

I have loved Colorado for as long as I can remember.

My family vacationed there when I was younger, and I always felt the inclination to return there, permanently, as an adult. It is no coincidence that when I left my corporate job in 1992, I went straight to Colorado.

It was on that visit that I dubbed Colorado my "spiritual home." I had been there many, many times before, but that trip was different. Unlike the fun summer vacations of childhood, it was a time of deep reflection. A time of questioning what life was all about, and what part I was going to play in it going forward. Those questions began in Dallas, at my corporate job, which is primarily why I left in the first place.

I remember that for fun I decided to play a John Denver CD in my Jeep, over and over, and the line "He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he'd never been before," from his song Rocky Mountain High, resonated strongly with me. I was almost 26, and that was exactly how I felt; like I was born again, home, and exactly where I needed to be.

To write about that time now would steal the focus away from my time spent there this summer, which is the primary purpose of this blog. For now, it's only important to know how strongly Colorado resonates with me.

While it is true that our primary reason for going to Colorado this summer was so that Rose could live and train at altitude to prepare for the Spartan Race World Championships, I had my own agenda. I was given 6-8 weeks to put off my surgery, and spending them in the place that feeds my soul the most was the best possible way of using that time.

I don't know what it is about a place that makes us feel that way. I am more apt to believe that it is actually (and always) an internal space that leads to that "I am home" kind of feeling, and that certain external places are better at providing the fertile ground needed for us to make that connection. Whatever the source of resonance, the mountains themselves, or the conditions that they provide, being there is a real source of joy and power for me.

On the weekend that Rose was racing at BattleFrog in Lake Geneva, I did a fast push up to Pikes Peak via the Crags Trailhead and Devil's Playground. This is the "short and steep" way to the summit (as compared to Barr Trail), and much, if not most, of the trail is above tree line. I went up by myself that day, and ran in to almost no one along the way. The few that I did see were on their way back down as I was heading up.

The next day I tried to explain to John Yatsko in an email the feeling I get when I'm up on a massive mountain like Pikes Peak, above the tree line, approaching the ridge line, and being the only person around. I am tempted to use the word "awe," but that doesn't convey the full fabric of my emotional content. A better word might be "vulnerable" or "exposed." It's as if I can feel the electricity in the air; the power of the atmosphere; and I sense and understand that it is way more powerful than myself.

It is equally interesting to me that the moment I near contact with others (when you crest the ridge line on this trail you can see the highway that goes to the summit of Pikes Peak), my focus almost immediately shifts away from that mental space. As if it is too uncomfortable to remain there. It reminds me of the lines in Rilke's Duino Elegies:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.

Between joy and wonder and awe and vulnerable, so went my life in Colorado. I did virtually no real strength training (which, to be honest, felt kind of nice), but I hiked or ran almost every single day....much of the time with Rose. The trails and mountains are just too enticing to pass up. They are like a jar of cookies sitting out on a counter that you can easily reach. Why wouldn't you?

My ongoing (now 2+ year) breathing issues were always present, but not so badly that they stopped me from doing anything. I just needed to do everything a little slower than normal. I could still do the Incline in 32 minutes, though, and it only took us 2 hours and 13 minutes to get to the summit via Devil's Playground, so it's not like I was hobbling along. I mean, these are not Joe Gray (USA mountain runner) times, but they are pretty respectable for us "non-elites."

In an earlier post I mentioned something about delving in to the "woo woo." I go back and forth as to when is the best time to divulge exactly what I mean. I sense it is not yet the time. For now, I will just say that between the running and the workouts, I spent a fair amount of time examining my "inner life."

One of the most interesting things to come out of it so far, at least the thing that is the easiest to share, is what I learned about my moment to moment emotional state. Being a long time meditator and student of Eastern philosophy, I am fairly good at cultivating an awareness of my mental and emotional content, but I have long ignored my emotional state while being in that state of awareness. I know, I know, a little confusing...

Let me try to sum it up in a different way: I found that I frequently choose "dispassionate and serious" over "happy and joy" while being in that state of awareness about my mental and emotional content.

This will probably not come as a big surprise to those who know me well. :)

At any rate, that recognition, along with my new ideas on the power of our thoughts and beliefs and stories, provided me with a lot of material to work on. That has been my primary focus lately, and I can already see some of the effects of that work.

Medically, I am on stand-by. I have an MRI in Omaha on 10/23, and an appointment with another doctor (in Omaha) on 10/26. After that I will have a better idea of what things look like going forward. Oddly, one of the biggest things on my mind is this whole breathing issue. I am not convinced that it is the result of, or related to, my current medical condition. I just get a strong sense that it is something else, so it is often on my mind. I realized the other day that I don't describe it accurately. I usually tell people that I only notice it "at intensity," when I am running hard or working out hard. I guess I use that language to distinguish it from having "shortness of breath." I know people who have that, and that is not what I have.

But the fact is, I DO notice it at rest. I notice it any time I pay attention to it. There is something not quite right with the "flow." The path is somehow constricted or blocked, and I can't help but think that there is something else at play.

In the last two weeks a few people have asked me about my plans for the fall and the winter, and I reminded them about the whole medical/surgery stuff. They all reacted with an "Oh! That's right! I totally forgot about that."

And because of that, I know that I have been doing something correctly.

I don't want to spend every day living the narrative of the disease. I want to spend every day living the narrative of life and blessings and gratitude. Their responses reflected back to me that, for the most part, I have been successful in my goal.

Rose and I are back in Seattle now, but I carry the mountains within me. And I try to find that sense of awe buried in the loud, hectic moments of living in the city. It is there if you can just remain still enough catch it.

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