And when the body finally starts to let golet it all go at oncenot piece by piecebut like a whole bucket of starsdumped into the universe.
~ Sleater Kinney “Get Up”
Note: Hearing about the death of Andrea Huser in 2020, whom I had met briefly at a race, has had me thinking about trail running, its risk and what it brings to my life. It does touch on the subject of death, and may be upsetting for some readers. In my past I’ve lived in third world countries and have also worked on projects researching death and dying. This has given me a perspective of death as a reality for all of us that should neither be feared nor welcomed too quickly, because doing either can reduce the quality of the life we live.
I am writing this in case one day the wild takes me, because I know that there are risks. Every time I head out on the trails, whether it be out into the desert, up a mountain, crossing a stream, there are things that could go wrong that mean I won’t come back. A misstep or loose rock, a wild animal, getting lost or injured, facing dehydration or hypothermia, probably some that I’ve never thought of. If occasionally I forget, mother nature has a way of reminding me through minor falls, close calls, and even the occasional ER trip.
In reality, these risks aren’t any greater than the ones we face every day without thinking. Over time humans have placed technology and society between ourselves and the wild, trying to hide from the fact that death is real and comes for us all, that danger is real. But by trying to avoid risks we have built new ones into our shiny modern lives. Some are quick like a speeding car or bullet, some are far more insidious like diabetes or heart disease that kill us slowly in our false sense of safety.
Sometimes I wonder too, how much of a cost our society exacts along with the sense of protection it provides. I sometimes feel lost and baffled by the workings of humanity, and I can only imagine others feel the same. The mental health epidemic is real. People are scared and lonely more than they like to admit. On the trail though, things seem to make sense to me. I’ve always felt the pull to wander a bit, to be in solitary moments with nature. Perhaps my regular escapes onto the trail are what keep me from wandering off for good, disappearing like a hermit. Perhaps my life would be less fulfilled then, but wouldn’t it also be less fulfilled if I spent it in and in front of the various boxes we’ve built for ourselves? Isn’t there a part of me, of all of us, that is still a bit wild and needs those tastes of freedom and exhilaration? Perhaps those moments far outweigh the risks that come with them.
Please don’t take that to say I am reckless in my risk-taking. I attempt to work within my limitations. To weigh what I do in those split-second decisions. To make smart choices about pushing on or turning back. Some of my greatest joys have been returning from my solitary adventures back to the humans I call my own. Sharing my passion with them makes it deeper and more fulfilling.
I don’t wish for my life to be one second shorter, I want to soak up every beautiful moment that I can, but I also know that my time will come and no amount of worrying and fear can change that. So, if the wild should take me, know that I have lived a full life. I have seen wonderful things big and small. I have made connections with others that have made me a better human. Know that ultimately the thing that took me was something that filled me up and made me more human. And if you also feel the call to wander don’t let my tale be one of caution and fear, but one of inspiration to include the things you love in your life before you too are taken.