Friday, January 21, 2011

Wilderness Cravings

In 1859, English Naturalist Charles Darwin published On the Origin of the Species, a work in which he expounded his (still?) controversial theory of evolution. While I'm no scientist, I often think about Darwin, about how distinctly animal I feel, when I crave the wilderness and the urge to wander beckons.

The urge to wander is not only beckoning, it's singing my siren song. I realized this morning that it's been nearly two years since I've trained for the trail, let alone set foot on it for more than two hours. The wilderness pissed me off, you see. Two year ago, I'd DNF'd (Did Not Finish'ed) at my first 100 mile attempt; the Marin headlands ate me alive. I'd pompously thought I was sufficiently trained. The same occured the following spring at the Miwok 100k; I'd properly trained this time, but the weather got the best of me: I was pulled for hypothermia 35 miles in to the wettest, stormiest edition of the race in its history. Even though my rookie status got the better of me for these two races, I saw portions of the California coast line and wilderness that others will never see, and I felt more alive than I've ever felt.

In fact, several years ago, I had a conversation with my good friend Robert atop Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park, about this very topic. He'd invited me to hike for a day trip, and I agreed to go. This hike is one of my favorite memories of our friendship.

At the top of the falls, we talked about anything. Robert is one of those people who I can always count on to ask the hard questions--to ask the existential questions that force me to think more deeply about who I am and what it is I'm doing with my time on this planet. In this particular instance, we had both just finished our freshman year of college, and I'd run my first two marathons. Naturally, he asked me about running. I distinctly remember telling him that when I run, when I feel pain from running, when I push myself towards the thin edge that separates the civilized from the primal, and when I suffer, I know I am alive.

The Wilderness Craving I have is a craving for the feeling of being alive--out in the fresh air among the trail and in the deep silence of solitude that every distance runner seeks. And no runner can deny that part of their love for running is the ability to tap into this primal loneliness. When I run I do more than I think; it's one of the only ways I have found to release myself from my own mind, which is always buzzing at the speed of light.

So perhaps my wilderness craving is also a craving for some sort of release from modernity, from the cement and metal playground that is civilization, back toward our shared primal ancestry.

All I know is that I miss the trail, I miss the smell of the trees, and I will be burning up some California coastline when I come back.

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