Wander About

I Just Like the Word

There’s a reason I tend to favor trail running over massing together with a horde of other runners on the road, and it’s a simple one; camaraderie.  You can pop open a thesaurus and use whichever word you’d prefer to in its place, but, as the title says, I like this one.

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There’s no reason you can’t make friendships on the road, and you may be able to point to people in your current running circle who you met at a road race. But, for me, that’s a no. The crowds and masses send me into a momentary panic as I try to harness the powers of the wallflower that helped me through my school days. On the road, I just want to be done and home.

It’s different for me in the woods. I feel safer on a trail twenty miles away from a road, five miles from an aid station, and ten miles away from the last time my legs actually felt like holding up my body. It’s out here, far outside the typical comfort zone that I find myself overly willing to be comfortable with whomever cares to share a mile or two with me. In these moments I’ll be happy to tell you every hope and fear that has scoured my brain from childhood to now, then ask you if you’d like to share yours. I don’t need to hide out there. I don’t need to be afraid out there.

And that’s where camaraderie comes in. You build trust with someone, someone you may have never met before, and may never see again when you are willing to bare your soul with a smile for no purpose other than to make a friend. Maybe it’s because you know your vulnerable this far out. Maybe the instincts of our ancestors surge forward as the trees close in and the modern world disappears beyond the pack that’s strapped to your back (if you even brought one).

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I’ve laughed, cried, screamed, bled, and dined deep in the woods as the world meant nothing beyond getting to the next spot. And although I haven’t done all of them with one person, I’ve shared in each with numerous others (you’ll see someone’s true grit when they start throwing up twenty miles in, breathe deep, then ask you if you’re good).

To be clear, this isn’t everybody’s slice of pie. But I’m not everybody, and I don’t want to try to be. Backwoods trail races are considered large if they have a few hundred runners, compared to the several thousand lined up at start lines on the roads. There’s no denying where the majority of runners find their peace and comfort among others, and I’m not going to try and go after the heart of road running because it serves a great purpose for many. I’m just here to pick off those wallflowers who find themselves pulling inward and getting short of breath as the walls of society close in on them. I’m here to tell you that you are a little weird, you are a little different, and you are a little out of place.

But, if you’re tired of running away from those feelings, and you’re ready to embrace them, come out to find a place among the scattered segments of trail runners smiling their way through the mud and mist, maniacally maneuvering their way toward one another, and the finish line.

Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty, and come join us in the woods.

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Of Trolls and Men

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The trolls of Renyisfjall,  locked for eternity in stone.

Standing off the shores of Reynisfjara are the stone remnants of two trolls, locked forever in basalt. Some centuries ago, these two trolls spotted a ship sailing off the coast of the black sand beach. Standing upon the smooth stones left from the chaos of a temperamental lava flow losing its war against the frigid waters, the trolls eyed the vast sails of the ship bulging from the rush of the wind, and heading past the trolls’ home inside of Reynisfjall. Trolls, you may not know, were exceptional at seeing through the dark of night, far better than any person could imagine. And as the waves rolled up and down, they could see, even from a distance, that the ship sat low in the water, its belly being filled with a most prosperous catch.

Hungry from their slumber and irritated by the fortunes of others, the trolls hatched a plan to wade into the waters, undetected, using their might to drag the ship across the open water, men and fish alike, for a feast like no other they had shared.

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Reynisfjall, former home to the trolls.

Eyeing the stars, they could see the constellations moving faster than they would care to acknowledge, the dim light of darkness in which deeds such as this belong was dwindling, and the sun would be breaking over the horizon in too soon a time. Trolls, if you are unaware, cannot abide the light of day and are cast forever in stone should they make the mistake of letting the sun find a home on their skin.

Now, as it was, after little debate, the two trolls declared the reward to be far greater than the threat, and cast aside their worries as they waded into the turbulent waters off the shores of Reynisfjara. They had waded many a time into the sea before, eyeing whales and seals alike, having some success at catching each. But this night, the water was turbulent beyond their recognition as the waves rolled in hard under their feet, eroding the ground beneath them as they sunk and slid their way into the water. They shared a glance of frustration, but neither spoke of the dangers this would cause. The men of the ship would not go lightly, and if the sea worked against them as well, it would take twice as long as they expected to drag it back to shore.

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Reynisfjara is covered in stones left behind when the lava met the sea.

Wading deeper into the water, the trolls rushed forward, undeterred and unwilling to acknowledge the risk as their troubles mounted. The seas became more restless as a black sheet was lain across the skies, and a torrent of rain fell upon them. Sparks of light lit the waves around the ship as the concussive force of mother nature erupted around them, but still the trolls carried on until they were neck deep, and staring longingly at the ship as it bobbed up and down over the waves, heading right toward them.

They took their place to each side and readied themselves to leap up and grab hold of the deck. Their arms held the strength of mountains, and could lay waste to a horde of men without so much as making a full effort. Waiting for the ship to crest a wave, they lurched out of the water, snagging it, one at each end, taking the crew by surprise as they had been focused on making their way through the storm.

A cry rang out amongst the sailors, as the trolls roared their approval of the fear that gripped the men before them. Fighting against the seas and the persistence of life, the trolls turned the ship toward the shore, heading home to enjoy their feast. They laughed and spoke in their tongue of old, a language unknown to mankind, as they watched the crew fling themselves into the seas, willing to take their chances with world that lay beneath, rather than face the boiling pot of the trolls. It bothered the trolls little, as the sea would often wash to shore the life it refused to take the burden of.

Their laughter and mockery kept their minds occupied as they waded against the raging water, forcing the ship against its rudder and command of the captain who begged for mercy. It was in this merriment that the pair had failed to realize the passing of the storm, and the parting of the clouds. The constellations they depended upon to guide their nightly rituals had faded into the blue hues of an early morning revival of life as the sun broke slowly over the horizon. Almost a mile away from shore, the two trolls breathed deep and spoke no more, laughter and merriment gone as they forced their feet forward, fighting against the pull of eternity.

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The water is cold and unforgiving, sweeping away many into its grasps from the shore alone.

But time catches up to us all, trolls and humans alike. Slowly, their feet refused to obey their commands as they began to sink deeper into the sand, frozen in place. They cast their eyes upon each other, then their home once more, for the last time. They were so close, but they would never make it. Never. As the sun washed over them, they felt a moment of pure bliss. It lasted but a few seconds, the kiss of an angel turning into the grip of a demon, as their bodies gave way to the curse that beset their kind, and their bodies became stone. Standing tall, and facing their homes, the trolls were now monuments, forever at sea, never to return home.

The ship broke apart between the two trolls as the waves cast it back and forth, but the crew that were fortunate enough would make their way to the shore, and tell of their tragedy at sea, taking weary travelers from all around to show them where they had escaped the grasp of the trolls who dared to challenge the rising of the sun.

Or, so the tale goes.

We can each make of this story what we desire, whether it be the cost of greed, the resistance against nature, or the dangers of the wickedness that pit us against one another. But I’ll let you search your own soul for the answers you need in those respects.

What I would like to ask, what the basalt sea stacks left behind by the trolls, slowly eroding by the passage of time and tears of the sea, would compel me to ask is, what will be the story of your stone monument when your time for eternity comes, and who will tell it?

Why I Used to Say…

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No, I’m normal…

There are numerous things I used to say that I turn back to now and can’t help but cringe. There is one statement, though, that encompassed them all – “I hate people.”

I spent years of my life blaming my isolation on the faults of others and not being able to stand being around them. There was always a reason for me to stand outside of any social circle and avoid any attempts to find a reason to join in. It was mildly fulfilling at the time (no one is perfect, so there is always a fault that can be found), but it was never justified.

All I wanted to do was to highlight the faults I could see in other people to dodge the mounting list of faults glaring back at me in the mirror. Pictures of myself at the time would clearly depict this image as well. I rarely smiled, would often stand alone, and when around people I had never met, would evade any interaction at all costs. A fantastic example of this, which is also a favorite story of mine now, would be how my now wife has no recollection of me for the first year we knew each other. We worked side by side multiple times as cashiers, but I attempted to make such a small impact on people’s lives that I honed it down to near perfection. Fortunately, my unabated desire to spend time with her eventually broke through my social inadequacies and I was able to convince her to spend time with me, despite my reservations.

I’d love to say from that moment I realized the fault in my perspective, but she could attest to the decade or more that I spent still convincing myself that I had no need to spend time with people I could not stand being around. I hated myself, and I wanted to hate other people, too.

Sometimes it’s easy to admit disdain for yourself, and other times it can be akin to boring a hole through a mountain with a spade. Because the moment you say it, your afflicted with the knowledge that you are responsible for how you handle and address this revelation. I admitted my contempt for the man I saw in the mirror on numerous occasions (cue Michael Jackson), constantly brushing aside any attempt to understand why, and plowing forward through my life.

But then I stopped. There was no major event. No great epiphany. I was just lonely.

I built the life I assumed I wanted, and it was depressing.

It was slow, and sometimes agonizing work to filter through my automated responses to interactions and invitations that inhibited me from enjoying life. And the truth is, I’m still struggling. I enjoy trying to meet new people and experience new things now, but I am far from good at it. Because of my late adaption to the process, I can miss or misinterpret social cues, often leaving people’s company wondering just how horrible they must think of me for what I did or didn’t do/did or didn’t say.

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Look at that smile. Seriously. That’s me smiling.

So, what am I doing now to try and right this ship I was so intent on steering into the oncoming iceberg in years past? I’m directing/promoting a trail race and inviting as many people who’ll indulge me to come and be a part of my life that I love. It’s a grueling experience in which I am determined to put myself out there as much as possible to meet new people and show them a passion that I have in hopes that they may share in it.

I still struggle. I still have inner turmoil. And I don’t consider myself special for it, or for my choices to move forward from it. From the people I have met, and from the information I’ve sought out, this is normal. This is life. This is a common struggle.

So, let’s find a way to do it together. Come and awkwardly say hi to me, and I will in turn, awkwardly say hi to you. And we can both go home hoping the other doesn’t now hate us for eternity.

 

-Dan

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Let’s do this!

IPOS

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IPOS: Injured Piece of Shit

For those who aren’t familiar with the loving term runners will occasionally be forced to address themselves as, IPOS is an almost unavoidable part of running life. There are great exercises and eating habits to keep us healthy and in our best shape to avoid it, but it lingers around every loose rock, unseen divot, and distracted dog. Over the past four weeks I’ve been sidelined from every type of exercise except walking as I’ve tried to recover from a combination of issues, the first and last of which landed me on the IPOS roster. After tweaking my knee in early December I took some time off, only to have my knee feeling rested and ready as I slammed my head in to the ground to garner my second concussion.

Time off sucks. It does. But, whether we want it or not, the time that passes in our lives is the only time we get. I didn’t get to push myself forward at all this past month in my running goals, and have even had to acknowledge that the time off has set me back. I don’t want to have to claw back the progress I made, doubling back over the same work I did months before, but it’s the only way forward. And so I will.

Running isn’t easy when you push yourself to get better and go further. But, we wouldn’t be running trails and pursuing dreams if we wanted to do what was easy.

Why Vagabond?

Why Vagabond

There’s a stark difference between our lives and those who make a solitary campsite or the back of a van their home. We are stationary many days by means of the city we live in, and taking care of the families and homes we’ve built for ourselves. Quite often, we have to plan in advance our disappearing acts into the world around us, sacrificing the days of picking up a drop bag and going at a moment’s whim. So, with these limitations, why choose the name ‘Vagabond’?

Over the course of our lives, my brother and I have chosen to take multiple paths. There was no set course we followed, and a long list of failures and accomplishments that shaped our mental states. As we developed a passion for something, we pursued it. If we saw the end had come, we began to say our goodbyes. In this respect, we received many an awkward glance or condescending comment from people who readily chose to follow an unwavering and narrow path, whether it made them happy or not.

For this reason, we consider ourselves to be vagabonds. Although we may not hit the road to a new town, or adventure as often as some, we are readily available to the changing nature of life and the shifts and stumbles that come along with it. Being tied down to one specific goal, one attainable achievement, does not inspire a passion to keep us moving in our lives. We want to wander. We want to try new things, meet new people, and see new landscapes.

We are not the vagrants of old, meandering from town to town, passing through others’ lives. But, for us, that’s ok. The world changes around us at a steady pace, and often, so do the meanings of words. If I were to express how I felt when I call myself a vagabond it would be as follows:

  • To be ready and willing to experience emotions as they come and go freely. To let loose my grip on things that cannot be permanent, and to embrace what is within my reach while I can. And, to experience as much of nature, love, and people as life allows wherever I may find myself.

Our definition is far from perfect, and so are we. But, we’ll keep wandering, in our lives and on the road for as long as our legs and minds will take us.

Cheers to those that find stillness in a restless heart.

How Many Miles

It’s not easy admitting that I feel like a fraud doing his damnedest to keep

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Austin Marathon

others from realizing it. I’ve spent the last several years of my life wondering when I would have achieved enough miles, enough trails, enough peaks and valleys to wash away that inequitable stain of insecurity. But, to little or no degree, has the feeling changed.

When I simply ran road races at a 5k distance, I never felt like I was a real runner like the rest of them. I was just the guy who thought he could stumble across the finish line without others noticing or caring. Stepping up from there into hiking, long distance road running, and later into trail and ultra running, I rarely feel that overwhelming sense of satisfaction around a large group of runners, because somewhere in that group, hidden to me, will be that one person who

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Charles Street 12

sees through my gear, my sweat, and my medals, and right to the fraud.

Thankfully, this dreadful feeling has never kept me from toeing a line at a race, or offering help and words of wisdom to people I meet that are interested in running. And as long as I have full control over my mental faculties, it never will. The hard thing right now is the escalation of my desire in distance running, as well as directing trail races. No matter the number of miles I’ve clocked under my feet through these past several years, I don’t think there will ever be enough for me to shake this.

It’s hard to try new things. It’s hard to break out of a comfort zone your body and mind have been building together since they first linked up and decided they preferred

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Georgia Death Race

predictability over randomization. I reveled in the static nature of existence until I realized I didn’t like it anymore. I had given up many of the things I had enjoyed as a kid to try and appear as adult like as possible, to which I also felt like a fraud. It’s just not worth letting this feeling have any control over my actions anymore.

I don’t know how to get over it, or if there even is a way. I don’t know if any of the other runners I’ve had the privilege of spending time on the roads or in the woods with feel the same. I’ve always been too afraid to ask. But, I don’t want to be anymore, which is why I’m writing this. I may be nervous every time I cross the start line knowing I may not reach the finish, but I’m always happy to try. I want to have that same courage in openly talking to runners as well. It may take me a little while to get there, but I’m willing to try.

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Take A Hike

Take A Hike

If I could actually go back and talk to myself from ten years ago (not the fictionalized, demonized, and, far too little, romanticized version of myself my memory keeps alive), I wonder if I actually knew how ambiguous my life seemed. I spent most of my time off of work indoors and on the couch. And, although I still read books, would often be staring blankly at whatever the TV had on that was mildly entertaining. I think I know I wanted more, but I can’t really remember when that thought actually popped into existence.

The most relevant time that I can come too would be May 2010. After a hard first year in a new state, my wife and I wanted to treat ourselves to a getaway for our anniversary. We had little money, and less experience with travel, so we wound up in a Bed and Breakfast not even a half hour from our apartment. There was nothing extravagant in the home. There were no magnificent attractions that drew us to it. It was just a farm house in the middle of a field.20160904_105740

After taking the first day to drive back to the side of town we knew to eat at the same restaurants and walk the same familiar malls, we decided to avoid that the second day. The next morning, unsure of what to do and hungry, we crept into the awkward breakfast situation that accompanies a B&B and began talking to the couple who owned and operated the home. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing me gracelessly meander my way through social interactions, then you know it was not a memorable, or enjoyable conversation when I was at my height of anxiety around new people.

To the credit of the couple who housed us for a long weekend in their guest room with the 1980’s trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house décor, they quickly ushered us out of the home with directions to a local park.

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You don’t always get to take a nap in Death Valley.

Neither one of us were dressed for a hike because it had been years since either one of us had gone on a hike. In the three years we had been married I had managed to put on almost thirty pounds by munching on cookies and downing them with multiple sodas. I was a home body that enjoyed the air conditioner and a good set of blinds to block out the sun. It was the good life, until it wasn’t.

I don’t know why the short walk in the woods sparked such a fascination in my mind. I hadn’t had any desire to spend time in the woods since the ninth grade when I ran cross country, but just a couple quick hours of walking through the trees brought back a non-stop cavalcade of memories. I started picturing my friends and I making our own trails to each other’s houses, walking the railroad until we knew we had to turn back to get home before dark, and charging into a pine wood with no concern for how to get back because we knew we’d reach a road somewhere.

I really don’t know why I let that feeling slip away as I got older. There’s a plethora of choices that are made in high school about how we want to see ourselves as well as how we want the outside world to see us. Trapped somewhere in that scared kid’s head was something against the youthful joy of running aimlessly in the woods.

After that short hike, I’ve been finding myself walking through pine wood forests, hiking up snow covered mountains, and running miles and miles on end for no reason other than to be in the woods with other people who want to do the same. I sincerely hope that in another ten years I will only have dived deeper into myself to reignite and inspire the passions that lay beneath the years of doubt and insecurity. I really feel like I’m getting a chance to live a good life, but I’m certainly open to it getting better.

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