The Speed of Experience

Every September as the summer winds down our running group the Boise Area Runners (BAR) host a campout in the Sawtooth Mountains. After months of training and race schedules, it’s a great casual gathering of friends in an amazing landscape on the cusp of the fall season. The hardiest (and healthiest) runners tackle the whole 19 mile enchilada of the Alice-Toxaway loop while others run out and backs. Due to an early season injury and a long slow recovery, tackling this non-official challenge was not in the cards for me this year. So instead Dana and I decided to head up early on Friday and backpack in to serve as “trail fairies” to our friends running the trails.

We had just made our way over the 9,500 foot pass from Toxaway Lake down to Twin Lakes when we saw our first runner. Having already covered the 13 miles we had the previous day and that morning, Serena was light on her feet and looked to be in great shape. No doubt she would finish the loop in another hour or so. Dana and I on the other hand probably had another 4-5 hours of trail ahead of us. 

Seeing Serena speed off around the switchbacks made me reflect on the way we move through the mountains and the difference in experiences that brings. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little jealous of the runners. One of my favorite aspects of trail running is the lightness of travel and distances you can cover in a relatively short amount of time. I usually attribute “runner’s high” to a lack of oxygen, but the satisfaction of covering ground in a minimalist fashion is one of running’s great appeals for me.

By the time Dana and I made it back to the group campground we were more than happy to lose the heavy packs, kick off the boots, and have a beer. As we talked around the campfire reflecting on the days experiences we got on the conversation of the unofficial speed record for the Alice-Toxaway loop. One of the folks in the group (who himself is a speedster) said that he had heard of a runner who had done the 19 miles in under 3 hours! However, the runner said it was the worst way to complete the loop because you are so focused on the speed and trail directly in front of your feet that you can’t see any of the beauty around you.

As I sat there by the fire I reflected on that statement and our time covering the same 19 miles over two days of backpacking and camping. Obviously as a photographer I stopped….a lot to take pictures, but in embracing the slow pace you see all the details around you from the grand alpine lakes, to the chirping pikas dancing among the rocks. As Alice-Toxaway is also one of the most popular trips in the Sawtooth Mountains you end up (or at least Dana and I do) stopping to talk to a lot of fellow travelers who on this trip ranged from Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon. So while our footsteps may have been slow, it gave us time to take in the trail experience in much more detail.

I fully intend to run the whole 19 mile loop in the future and look forward to the experience and sense of accomplishment that will come with it. I think this experience will be greatly enhanced having taken in the surroundings at the much slower pace that backpacking provides. One is not better than the other, just different and in that difference lies the beauty of moving through the mountains.  

Decisions, decisions

“The question isn’t what are we going to do, the question is what aren’t we going to do” ~ Ferris Bueller

I’ve often scoffed at the RVs and vehicles I’d see on roadways throughout the summer with every possible piece of recreational enjoyment strapped to them, like the Clampetts making their way to the mountains. The fact of the matter is though, I often feel this way when I’m loading up the truck for a weekend camping trip. For instance this past Labor Day weekend the packing list went something like this: kayaks and pfds, camping equipment, fishing gear, running shoes, packs, camera equipment (of course), and cloths for every occasion. All of these things were necessary of course as the weekend entailed camping, a concert, kayaking, fishing, volunteering at a running race, and multiple gatherings with friends. 

FOMO you say? Perhaps, but I think a lot of it is how I’m wired. So many people I know tend to really pour all their energy and time into one, maybe two activities. I sometimes find myself envious of this passion and accompanying skill level that comes with the time commitment. The reality though is that when conversations start to be dominated by the latest gear or plans to do the same thing for the 49th day in a row, my brain starts to wander and enthusiasm wanes. I am consoled though to know that I am not the only one who suffers from outdoor O.D.D (Obsession Deficit Disorder). Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and one of the biggest names in the outdoor world once characterized himself as 

I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different…

For me I think the draw to so many different outdoor activities is the enjoyment I get from engaging in the natural world through different experiences. For instance I can bike and run the same trail, but experience it in two totally different ways. On the bike there is speed and rhythm that creates a sense of flow to a trail. Running that same trail is much more cathartic and a totally different sensory experience. I’m also intentional in engaging in different activities at different times. One of the reasons I got into fly fishing was that I was doing a lot of high energy sports and felt like I needed something to slow down and take in my surroundings more…as well as let my legs rest! 

So while I might not be as fast or catch as many fish as others, I am always excited to get out and make the most of it however I can. Dana recently saw a sweatshirt that said Go outside and do something, to which she responded “I don’t think that’ll be a problem”.

Jellystone Park

A few weeks ago we took a little road trip from Boise to Missoula by way of Jackson Hole, Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. Having passed through a few years back I was excited to revisit two pretty amazing parks. However, my enthusiasm was tempered by the thought of visiting one of the most popular National Parks in the height of summer. Last time I visited Yellowstone I was witness to several acts of Darwinism, including sneaking up on Bison with iPads and parking diagonally across the road to allow vehicle passengers to photograph high cliff mountain goats. This apprehension was made only worse by the fact that only a week prior a nine-year-old girl was sent sailing twenty feet in the air by a charging bison. It really makes you wonder if we are on a social de-evolution.On our visit, an informative plack at the visitors center at Mammoth Hot Springs revealed quit the contrary. It turns out throughout the Park’s history, visitors have always used bad judgement.

Yellowstone was established in 1872 by Congress as the first National Park and signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant. But the designation did little to protect the approximately 3,500 acres of the park. Poaching was rampant throughout the park, some for profit and some just because the animals were there. In 1877 the Department of the Interior hired Henry Yount as the first game warden. Hard to believe that one man could cover so much area, which is why Mr. Yount quite within the first year. Poaching continued to threaten the existence of several species, vandals stole ornate travertine, and homesteaders illegally grazed cattle and set fire to surrounding forests. Such degradation led the Secretary of the Interior under the authority grant to him by Congress to call on the Secretary of War for assistance and in 1886 the U.S. Army took charge.

The U.S Army? You would think with military management and the establishment of the National Park Service 1916 that acts of idiocracy would no longer be a problem. Unfortunately, people continued to be people. By the early 1930s Old Faithful nearly stopped spouting because so much trash had been thrown into it. Since the 1960s the color of the Morning Glory pool has changed because of things that have been thrown into it. So much so that the Park Service has had to clean the pool on more than one occasion, even as recently as the 1990s. 

So really, it should be no surprise when someone crashes a drone into the Grand Prismatic,  tries to walk up to take a peak into Old Faithful, or put a baby bison in the back of their Subaru. Thankfully the National Park Service is there to continue to protect these great American treasures….from ourselves. If you appreciate Yellowstone and the other National Parks, watch this informative safety video and consider donating to the National Parks Foundation.

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