Trails Collective

“Matters of Inconsequence”

Matters of Consequence:

“I once calculated that I have spent over five years’ total time sleeping in tents, and most of that in small tents pitched in the world’s most remote regions. I say that not to boast but to offer it as a measure of time spent deeply connected to wildness, because that connection has shaped the way I have lived my life, teaching me to distinguish what I call matters of consequence from matters of inconsequence.”

~Rick Ridgeway (Life Lived Wild)

While I haven’t spent quite as many nights in tents pitched in as remote places, I have spent just enough time in my tent and in the remote backcountry of Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado, to recognize and feed my own hunger for a connection to wildness, albeit a more domestic kind.

Eager to feel small in a vast world viewed from the Yellow Creek outcrop in Colorado (2016).

And I run ultras. I spend full days running through the woods, climbing, descending, crossing streams and listening to birds sing, experiencing my own catharsis and spiritual enlightenment that comes with immersing myself in natural spaces for so many hours at a time. Out there, the rest of the world falls away and nothing else matters. It’s me, alone with my own breath, and my footsteps are all that I leave behind.

And I lose all sense of time when I’m out there.

Rick Ridgeway, Yvon Chouinard, and Doug Tompkins are my heroes and were the original dirtbags. In their early days, they’d earn just enough to eat, surf, ski, climb, and buy a few cold beers. In 1968, eight years before I was born, Yvon, Doug, and friend Dick Dorworth bought an old van and drove it from Ventura, California to Patagonia to climb Cerro Fitz Roy with an English climber named Chris Jones. This would be the third-ever ascent of the mountain. They documented their trip and made an iconic film they would call Mountain of Storms. For them, life was about experiencing…life. It was less about summiting or sending…or how fast you made it up there…or what you saw when you finally reached the top. What really mattered were all the life that was lived and all the stories shared along the way…it was the journey and how that journey redefined each of them that mattered most. The more recent film 180° South and Rick’s memoir Life Lived Wild further emphasize this, deepening my desire to stay wild and slightly unconventional, leaving a few aspects of my personhood untamed.

Conquerors of the Useless. Doug Tompkins, Rick Ridgeway, and Yvon Chouinard on a first ascent of Cerro Kristina, Southern Andes, Chile.
Photo credit: Jimmy Chin (180° South)

“Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.” ~Yvon Chouinard

Every time I run 50 miles, regardless of how long it takes, it changes me.

Returning to Cayuga Trails:

Last weekend, I returned to run another 50 miles at Cayuga Trails because I love the course so much and enjoy reconnecting with old friends while making new ones. And I had also hoped to better my time from last year, as I have another year of experience running challenging courses under my belt and felt good about my fitness. The first few miles just flowed and heat training the week before made running through the midday heat easy. I knew the trails. I felt like I was cruising. And then the first half of the race was done (in 6:03-ish). So for a time, I was actually on track to finish in less than 13 hours. But at mile 30 (Treman Meadows AS) I was THIRSTY and chugged an extra cup of water…I figured it was just one extra cup. Then at mile 33, I had to use the bathroom. Except there was no bathroom. And no large bushes. And no shortage of ticks. Unable to fully run for the remaining 2 miles into the Y Camp AS, I began to feel disheartened as several runners passed me. And that’s when my mind started to say things to me…I can’t drink…so I must be getting dehydrated…but I’ve been drinking extra…am I still sweating…of course I’m still sweating…I’m going to end up against the cutoff…I’m still way ahead…I could stop now and just have some hot food…

The calm before the storm. Photo credit: Katelynn Wagner

A simple trip to the PortaJohn fixed everything and, after first heading back out the wrong way to land myself two extra miles and a few hundred more feet of elevation for the day, I turned myself around…literally and figuratively. And I finished what I had originally set out to do. Though in the later miles I became slightly worse for wear, I felt strong throughout and ran a fast clip over the flat remaining two or so miles into the finish. My legs even felt strong this year going up the Buttermilk Falls stairs for the second time. In hindsight, I really was moving well and I felt good. In the later miles, I ran by a couple of women who clapped and began chanting as I passed, “Si tu puedes! Si tu puedes!” I thanked them and carried their words with me right home to the finish.

Matters of Inconsequence:

I reached the halfway mark at around 6:03 and it appeared I might be on track to finish the race in under 13 hours. While I still held firmly to my more conservative goal of finishing under 14 hours, that 13-hour time called to me. But for me, most important has always been the journey…so I didn’t push myself too hard. So, in the end, a sub-14 was not to be. Still, according to Garmin and Strava, I reached the 50-mile mark in 13:23:47. So, in spite of any setbacks, I still made my original more conservative goal of running 50 miles on this course in under 14 hours and my even more conservative goal of just finishing faster than I did in 2022 (and of course my most conservative: just finish). Yet for a day I continued to reflect perhaps a little too much on the many what-ifs… What if I didn’t have that extra cup of water? (was I ever thirsty though!) What if I tried to run a little more back to the Y camp? (felt pretty rough!) What if I hadn’t run the wrong way out of the Y camp? (that would likely be my sub-14) What if I had run more on the downhills even when everything hurt around mile 40? (but why not keep it fun)

Strava plot showing elevation, pace, and elapsed time at 50 miles.

I know I have it in me to finish with a sub-14 hour time on the clock but in the end, I moved on and let it go. We often assign value and worth to experiences that are already complete, before we feel the need to assign any merit to them. Every run inherently has value and worth.

Matters of inconsequence.

As it turns out, there were 51 DNFs that day. That means 51 runners started the day as I had, but had races that ended quite differently than mine did. In the end, I crossed that finish line, and that’s all that matters.

Running 50 miles is always a privilege.

“Taoism taught me to focus on the process and not to be attached to preconceived ideas of what I thought the outcome should be.” ~Jimmy Chin

I couldn’t agree more.

All smiles at the finish with friends, including RD Ian Golden.
When I first walked into his shop and was learning about his races, I couldn’t imagine that a year later, I would have run most of them.
Photo credit: Robert Seltzer

“…the way we approach a lot of these mountains is with humility. A sense of, ‘Is it going to give us passage?’ Your mental attitude can affect the outcome.” ~Jimmy Chin

I would argue that the same applies to ultrarunning. If you crossed the finish line, the trails offered you passage that day. Always be grateful.

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