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How to run in a ventilator

Over on Da Gram, folks I follow from Montana to California have been asking all sorts of questions about me running in a ventilator when it is smoky outside. During summer 2017, I was deeply focused on an ultra running project when the Diamond Creek Fire broke out ten miles from my home in the Methow Valley. Instead of running indoors at the pinner gym in the valley or giving up my gnostic mileage altogether, I decided to innovate.

SOLUTIONS > excuses

Enter: Darth Vader Bitch in no shirt and a power braid. I hope this brief guide keeps you moving on the trails when clouds turn to ash. Enjoy your sore-throat-free run in the smoke!

Brittany Raven


Ventilator model: I am more prone to finding solutions than to allowing adverse running conditions keep me indoors. Last summer I spent most of August and September running and lifting in this ventilator. If it is your first time training in a ventilator, expect a ventilator that is effective in protecting against smoke inhalation to obscure your breathing - it felt like running at about 9000' elevation to me. Be aware of hypoxia due to the restriction of breathing and moderate your pace and the steepness of the terrain you choose to run accordingly.

When to don it: When the air smells like wildfire smoke, when I can't see Mount Gardner from Winthrop, or when I get a slight headache from the smoke I put on my ventilator. This happens around 75 AQI. With the high volume of training I do, I can't chance a case of bronchitis or the presence of a splitting headache anymore than I want to axe a planned run. If a large amount of visible particulate falls from the sky I do a different form of training as I don't want the particulate in my eyes. 

Achieving a seal: Allow the sweat to build up around the ventilator (in the space between skin and plastic) and don't wipe it away. That sweat creates an excellent seal of the mask to your face. Be sure to move the mask aside every fifteen minutes for a bite and a sip. People with facial hair might struggle to get the thing to stick completely to their faces.

The stimulus: Given that the mask will function as yet another stimulus in your training and, paired with the likely heat that will accompany it, you may perceive a dip in performance as your body acclimates. When you restrict oxygen input, your body works furiously to produce more red blood cells. When you add heat, your body increases plasma volume. With these things happening simultaneously your bod is indeed increasing its performance but it will feel discouragingly slow. 

Measuring the stimulus: Pace is nearly always the poorest measurement of training impact; time in zone is nearly always the best way to meter out your endurance production. Quit with the competitive thinking already, learn your CUSTOM/INDIVIDUAL zones, and watch your performance rise while incidences of overtraining, insomnia, and injury decrease. Especially in the mask, releasing the ego's attachment to pace and measuring the success of your run only by time in zone is of vital importance. 

The ANS: Hypoxia leads to the activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and that is a bad thing for an ultra endurance machine like you. With an activated nervous system during persistent endurance training you risk poor proliferation of oxygen, inappropriate metabolism of your precious calories, poor decision-making, lack of connection with the divine, and even adrenal fatigue. 

Minor logistics: In this model of ventilator I've found a hat to be more compatible sun protection than sunglasses, a high ponytail (power braid suggested) helps hold the dang thing up better than a low pony, and wearing it with headphone cords is a hassle. 

 

read more:

running in wildfire country

heat training

training in the heat while pregnant

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Training in wildfire country

that firelight, tho.

Hey readers,

Here's an update on a post I wrote last summer. Wildfire smoke is, again, blanketing the valley, there's yet another wildfire burning just a handful of miles from my forest home, and I've put on my respirator for runs. 

Keep up the good work and forget your excuses.

Brittany Raven


As the Diamond Creek Fire nears my home in the Methow Valley, I continue my daily running practice. My home, as wild and wily and wonderful as it is, also has extreme seasons. Spanning the negative-teens and three feet of snow on the ground in winter to the sauna-like smoky days of mid-August there is always some complication to getting out the door to run - except in our paradisiac Aprils and Octobers which read like a mineralic rosé or a dense merlot on my tongue according to season.

Just like the e-book I compiled last winter containing my lessons for running in snow, I wanted to provide readers and clients with some fire country know-how to help you keep moving in the hottest summer months. More than sharing my hard-won knowledge about dancing with the changing seasons with you readers, these pieces serve as mantras for me when the extreme conditions get me down and make me consider not running. Here are a few helpful morsels I've gathered this season while I learn to move with the fire.

 

Safety: Being that wildfire can shift quickly, leaving the runner stranded, there are a number of health- and safety-related precautions to take when running the hills during an active wildfire. First: leave a plan with a responsible safety person who is able to call in the necessary support. In that plan include where you're parking, what trail or mountain you're running, with whom, and a time that you will contact them. Be sure to leave the contact information of your local Search and Rescue team with your safety person so they know who to call if you don't get in touch in time. While you're running use good common sense. Sniff the air periodically to judge the behavior of the fire nearby, watch for smoke or unusual animal activity. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to exit quickly should warning signs present themselves.

Checking conditions: Don't rely on mere gossip or the news to inform you of fire activity - go to the source. Check out the InciWeb page for the fires near you before heading out on your run. Take special caution on windy days. Even though that blessed wind might blow the smoke away and tempt you out to run, it is akin to being called out to ski on the deepest powder days. Just like fresh pow is tempting and potentially lethal, so too are clear skies after a couple smoky days. The wind that clears the skies is the same wind that stokes the wildfire.

Your vehicle: If you're driving to your running destination be sure to have an alternate exit if one is cut off by smoke or flame. Park your car in a conspicuous location to alert FS employees who might serve an evacuation notice while you're on the trail and to make rescue more feasible should you become trapped. If you're running in a particularly remote location leave a note detailing your route and timing on your front seat in case a team drives by to evacuate the area. Fuel up, keep on top of maintenance, and park in a visible location. Nuff said.

The heat: Fire season happens during the hottest part of the year - and here in the Methow Valley that means 100F+ conditions on ten runs in a row this summer. The heat is an excellent training stimulus - if properly-programmed in your training. Start with little bouts of exposure to the heat on your mellow run days before jumping whole-hog into long, hilly, hot runs. I find visualizing my body dissipating into the heat rather than resisting the heat allows me to become more comfortable in intense temperatures. Instead of flushing your body to hyponatremia by drinking only clear water, try this homemade hydration drink. Fill a sixteen ounce hand bottle with ice, add the juice of one lime, spritz in some micronutrient drops, and top it off with water. That bottle will add a good deal of cool to your baking-hot run. 

Ventilator: I am more prone to finding solutions than to allowing adverse running conditions keep me indoors so when the smoke near home persisted this month, I ordered this ventilator. Read the next blog post for more on wearing the ventilator.

The ANS: Hypoxia leads to the activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and that is a bad thing for an ultra endurance machine like you. With an activated nervous system during persistent endurance training you risk poor proliferation of oxygen, inappropriate metabolism of your precious calories, poor decision-making, lack of connection with the divine, and even adrenal fatigue. If you are unsure how to regulate your nervous system, sign up for a consult with me and I'll teach you the way.

When to bail: If ash falls from the sky, if the smoke is thick enough to make my eyes water, and if there is lightning in the forecast I'll bail or choose a different activity for the day.

 

read more:

heat training

ventilator running

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GUEST POST: Pregnant doctor-athlete - Ashley Kochanek Weisman, MD

I concluded that there was no convincing evidence to stop my rigorous schedule of emergency medicine night shifts, distance running, climbing, and skiing.
— Ashley Kochanek Weisman, MD

Special guest post today for you, reader! 

Ashley Kochanek Weisman, MD reached out to me a couple months ago with a heartening message about how my pregnant athlete material had resonated with her and had been useful through her three trimesters of skiing, climbing, and running. When she was in town for a visit a few weeks later we connected over coffee and it must have been something to overhear. We bantered about evidence on performance and pregnancy, she nursed her fresh babe, and she recounted some amazing pregnant ski trips as well as her fast return to training postpartum.

Ashley holds a BS from Yale and received her MD from Harvard. She now practices medicine as an emergency room doc in Western Washington. This brainiac also has a penchant for alpine climbing, backcountry skiing, and ultra running - as well as a brand new baby. She and I both approached our decisions about pregnant athleticism, birth, and postpartum using peer-reviewed science and our deep levels of self-knowledge. And guess what: as similar as our experiences as pregnant athletes might have been our choices about where and how to birth were quite different!

When I asked Ashley to write a guest post for this here blog I had no idea how funny it would be. Please enjoy her tales of the birth send and how she navigated her glorious ten months of blood doping through the lens of her scientific mind below. Ashley's deep trust in herself as an athlete and the evidence around pregnant athleticism are notable.

Brittany Raven


the author skiing in Hokkaido, Japan at 22 weeks pregnant

"I think this is the SEND!" shouted my dudela/climbing partner/husband Dan, “I can see his head!”

I started laughing, took a deep breath, and pushed out our son. Pushing was hard and counterintuitive: It involved relaxing the glutes, hamstrings, quads and abdominal muscles that I had trained throughout my rock, snow, and trail-filled pregnancy. The delivery wasn’t graceful but felt damn good; if labor was an undulating 50k mountain run, pushing was a 5.10d offwidth finish. Little guy nailed the birth canal couloir descent into the hands of a family medicine resident, coached by an attending obstetrician, with a senior nurse and nursing resident in the active audience. Now everyone was laughing.

On my chest was a healthy baby born in the most natural way my pregnant-doctor-patient-athlete could imagine—in a quaternary care hospital with a level 4 NICU amongst a throng of doctors, nurses, and medical trainees learning by doing, with lots of references to skiing and climbing epics, without anesthesia or analgesia or a doula. This is certainly not everyone's picture of natural, but it was mine. Like the rest of my patient-doctor-athlete pregnancy, the birth was an amalgam of evidence-based medicine, medicine with no evidence, and instinct-guided winging it, all taken with a beginner’s mind and openness to change.

I started pregnancy as an emergency physician, ultrarunner, climber, and skier, 100% confident in the medicine I had learned from my physician parents, medical school, residency, and years of clinical practice. I was ready to abide by science and obstetric and pediatric society guidelines to the letter of the law.  After my first positive home pregnancy test I dove into the medical literature to construct a list of dos and don'ts. Some recommendations were solid––don’t smoke or binge drink, minimize exposure to radiation or teratogenic diseases, get a flu shot, don’t gain too much or too little weight. Yet there was woefully little guidance on my definition of exercise--hours spent running, climbing and skiing––during pregnancy.

What do we know about pregnancy and exercise? By my best literature review, we know that healthy maternal lifestyles are good for moms and children. We also know that running does not lead to differences in birth weight percentile or gestational age. We know that pelvic floor muscle training in antenatal and postnatal periods can reduce incontinence. There is, however, no conclusive evidence showing significant reduction in gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or perinatal depression from maternal exercise.

 
 the author's shadow while skiing in Crested Butte 6 months pregnant

the author's shadow while skiing in Crested Butte 6 months pregnant

 

I concluded that there was no convincing evidence to stop my rigorous schedule of emergency medicine night shifts, distance running, climbing, and skiing. I also appreciated the counterpoint: there was no evidence that this was better than taking it easier. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In the case of pregnant athletes, there is much we have not studied and many topics we have studied inadequately—tiny sample sizes, retrospective methods, and leading hypotheses. For example, Kuhrt et al’s 2018 study of running in pregnancy is titled “Is recreational running associated with earlier delivery and lower birth weight?”. They could have asked: what is the effect of pregnancy on birth weight and delivery or is running during pregnancy associated with any number of untested, more positive outcomes like fewer epidurals or C sections or shorter recovery times, or less incontinence due to stronger pelvic floor muscles? But they didn’t.

So, I signed up for a fall trail race to celebrate thirteen weeks and booked backcountry ski trips to Japan for week twenty-two, Crested Butte for week twenty-six, and New Hampshire for some third trimester nordic. I found an awesome obstetrician who thought this plan sounded reasonable and FUN (bonus: she came to our first appointment in a dress covered in little skiers). We agreed that we were in a largely data-free zone but also acknowledged the benefits and risks of my plan.

Benefit: I was starting pregnancy with a high level of fitness and a demanding job and continuing this level of activity would make me happy and keep me fit for postpartum adventures.

Risk: Trail running, climbing, and skiing can injure moms and fetuses. We can take measures to mitigate this risk but these pursuits are incontrovertible riskier than a brisk walk. I agreed. I CHOOSE regular doses of prenatal athletic euphoria (with added risk of injury) over the statistically safest plan (fall and exhilaration free walking). Nothing like pregnancy and parenting to make you eat your words. I was hardly “following guidelines to the letter of the law”.

As I continued to see pregnant patients and field questions (and criticism) about my pregnancy decisions and others, I realized that patient and doctors rarely lead lives of pure science or non-science. We choose practices from evidence-based medicine, experience, anecdote, faith, and instinct. Sometimes our decisions follow science but our next decision may disobey evidence and feel just as right. In my own delivery, I chose a very medicalized setting out of anecdote and comfort (I love hanging out in hospitals as a provider or patient) as much as evidence (delivering in a hospital is a safe, evidence-based choice). I chose NOT to have a doula against evidence and trusted my adventure partnership with my husband and years of experience with and faith in medical trainees. I chose no pain control based on my love of physical challenges and very modest evidence.

Back to full schedule of ER shifts and athletic objectives three months postpartum, my lived experience as a postpartum patient-doctor-athlete has shifted my thinking. When I meet a pregnant women or a parent in the emergency room or on the trail somewhere between science, experience, faith, and the summit, I think:  

  1. HIGH FIVE! Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and parenting are freaking hard and very fun. RESPECT, for anyone trying their best for their family.

  2. Check your biases at the door and listen. Medical choices in pregnancy and parenting are complicated and influenced by many factors (scientific evidence, absence of scientific evidence, anecdote, experience, the internet, mother-in-laws, and just about anything else). Despite beginning this journey as one of the most medicalized people out there, I made several choices based on faith in the exhilaration of mountain athletics and other choices based on science and was happier for it. My job is NOT to judge but to understand and help you be a kick ass pregnant athlete and backcountry parent.    

 

My name is Ashley, I am a runner, climber, backcountry skier, and emergency physician. This post represents my personal experience and opinion. This is NOT medical advice. Please consult with your truest self and your obstetrician or midwife before making your own decision regarding pregnancy and postpartum athletics.

 

sources:

Dhana et al BMJ 2018

Kuhrt et al BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018

Woodley et al Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017

 

 

read more:

Myth Busting Series

Endurance as a rite of passage

Postpartum climbing

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Kettle Crest Trail recovery

 The Kettle Range: Barnaby Buttes, Snow, Sherman, Columbia, Wapaloosie, Copper, and Profanity

The Kettle Range: Barnaby Buttes, Snow, Sherman, Columbia, Wapaloosie, Copper, and Profanity

Many of you have been asking how my physical recovery from the Kettle Crest Trail went this time around. My spirit experienced the running culmination of this event in epic hallucinations where I became Raven and even stranger things. While I've been wildly ruminating on the existential aspects of the experience, which are vast and still needing more time to process, my body quickly integrated the event.

The Kettle Crest Trail encompasses about forty-six miles (“about” because estimates range from forty-one to forty-eight and the trail sorely needs re-mapping) and about 8,000 feet gain between elevations of 4,800 feet and 7,200 feet. Unlike other epic mountain runs I’ve enjoyed like the Wonderland or any number of long routes in the Rockies, the KCT is a wily journey and often indistinct or unmaintained. Two old wildfire scars sling their black and silver remnants over the trail. In my seven runs on the Crest I’ve encountered five bears and three moose. The North Kettles are wolf country and are also challenging to navigate due to a recent fire there which has allowed brush to encroach on the faint path. Running this year, I saw a total of two people over the course of the better part of a day.

As with my last run on the Kettle Range in 2017, the latent effects of fetomaternal microchimerism rendered me unable to get sore. The female body is the ultimate endurance machine.

On last year’s run, I was forced by a great dearth of water on the trail to drink from a cattle trough. Consequently, I got giardia (my fourth bout with those little fuckers since 2009) and so my internal recovery from the run took until my course of antibiotics was over a few weeks later. This year, though, I armed myself with iodine tablets and thankfully my gut has felt solid since completing the run.

The day after the run I took a recovery hike. The day after that I took an easy run. The day after that my legs made me run like I was possessed––bottomless energy once again even after the FKT rolled out of me. Though I have attempted to turn my energy to climbing once again, my fire for running continues to burn and so I’ve spent six days a week hammering dust with joyful feet.

Most remarkably, my period has maintained its thirty day cycles. I strategically programmed this run to happen on the summer solstice in the first days of my luteal phase, knowing that I’d have ample light, lots of energy, and given that I’d have already ovulated it was unlikely that the big effort would disrupt my cycle.

Finally, last year I ran about five pounds lighter and my autonomic nervous system was a good deal more sensitive. In advance of my 2017 run, I found it difficult to fall or stay asleep and I functioned in a slight sleep deficit for most of the summer. Through winter 2017/2018 I packed on about ten pounds, downed an indica edible every night, and built more consistent bedtime habits. As a result, this year I slept well all but the night before the event (because I was just so damned excited to run). In the taper leading up to the event, I clocked about eleven and a half hours of sleep a night plus naps three days a week.

 

read more:

Perfecting the Taper

Psychedelia

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Deep play and regenerative work

 

romancing myself somewhere in the forgotten Okanogan, 2018

 

In June I had someone tell me I am not working hard enough and another person say I need to learn how to play. Paradoxically, they are both simultaneously completely true and deeply false.

My play is deep: expanding my known spectrum of pleasure and pain while hucking Rattlesnake in the tall grass and soaring with Eagle over the nude alpine. My work with the pen and in partnership with clients is a creative exhale that lights up my spirit.

In this way, there is no need for 'compromise' in the arc of creation and recharge; the things I don't have or can no longer afford I don't miss. This whole jubilant mass of my daily work carries me to its culmination, to Source, in a way the opposite of the motion of a river.

 

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The Writing Practice

MN Turns Five!

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Rest

When rest goes from being something that perches in the leftover hours between work and sleep (and houscleaning and child-rearing and volunteering and commuting, and so on, ad infinitum) to being something that you claim for yourself, it becomes more valuable and tangible. The very act of making specific plans helps make a goal feel more realistic and accessible, and gives you a clearer sense of its value. Deliberate rest is not a negative space defined by the absence of work or something that we hope to get up to sometime. It is something positive, something worth cultivating in its own right.
— Alex Soojung-Kim Pang "Rest"

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Perfecting the taper

golden hour on the Kettle Crest, cr. David Moskowitz

As I transition into the quiet time before a storm of movement on yet another multi-year project, I have been revisiting my own advice on the art of the taper.

Tapering involves a relaxation and turning inward of the mind, body, and habit; it may last from a few days to six weeks depending on the event. During my various tapers for rock projects, expeditions, alpine climbs, and long runs I've developed a few transferrable strategies to make sure I'm well-rested and prepared for the big event.

 

Timing: Training too hard too early before your intended event can be just as detrimental to event-day (or month) performance as not training enough in advance. Finding the right balance of loading on the volume and backing off, track your various tapers and performance during events religiously. Reflect critically after the dust has settled following each event. You will, in time, learn the proper amount of time your body needs to rest before each event. A note: the time and type of taper necessary will vary within the athlete based on the kind of event undertaken. For example, I taper differently for an ultra than I do for a climbing objective.

Rest: Allow your body to cycle into as deep a state of rest as the event requires. For an endurance event, allow yourself to go to the state of rest where you're peeing a lot, sleeping more than normal, and don't feel motivation to train. Ideally, the body cycles through this state and back into an impatience for movement and more normal sleep patterns prior to the event. In addition to what one might normally think of as rest such as less training and more sleeping, try to eliminate excess items from your calendar or take a couple preparatory days off from work. Time away from stress, even productive or good stress, is necessary to allow your mind to prepare.

Insulation: Perhaps the least-practiced and most important part of tapering. To allow the most regenerative pre-event experience, this introvert avoids excess social contact, introductions to new people, new experiences, and most media during the taper period. Take a social media vacation in advance of your event - and delete the dang apps off your phone so you don't cheat. According to the event, it may also be nice to insulate oneself from the cold in order to prepare for some extended time out in the elements - this provides a time of coziness to harken back to when chilled to the bone and moving. This period is a safe island isolated from the intensity of training and event.

Reduce inflammation: Remove all alcohol, drugs, and food allergens from your diet - for real. The one exception to this tip is cannabis. If your body relaxes under the influence of CBD or canna, indulge at this time. It is preferable to ingest it in tincture or edible format. A couple supplements that can smooth the path to anti-inflammatory state are this one and a regular ol dose of turmeric

Self-care: Good self-care is always a key to high athletic achievement, but becomes acutely so in this final period. Through your final massage and acupuncture visits, note your body's energetic tank filling, perhaps even track it in your training journal. Depending on the seriousness of the event, consider updated blood work and a visit with your primary care doctor to be sure everything is in prime order. Continue your meditation practice, even deepen it at this time. Use delicious, whole foods to nourish the body and mind. For my clients who are in the know, the Owl Eyes exercise is indicated at this time.

Reaffirmation: In your meditations and lucidity sessions, visualize the exact sequence of your project, fly over the mountain you're about to climb, or let your feet touch the bends in the trail you'll travel. Feel yourself strong and vital as you complete your event and imagine the states of mind you'll need to cultivate for each stage of performance. You've committed to preparation for this event now review the goal and your path. This practice helps me see how far I've come and instills in me greater confidence in my ability to achieve the impossible.

Logistics: Practice packing for your event well in advance. In the process, you'll likely note a few items that could use repair or that you still need to purchase. This is cruicial for expeditions and self-supported events. Review your map or itinerary - the physical one and the topo in your head. As you conduct these final preparations, take a few shakedown runs, climbs, or rides just to keep the qi moving.

Recovery: Recovery begins with pre-event preparation. Clean your space to prepare for your return home. Collect your favorite recovery foods - even consider preparing them so they are ready to eat at the end of the event. Bring your most comfortable post-event clothing. On expeditions for the time between getting off the mountain and returning to the US, I find it nourishing to have a few touches of home like nice street clothes or my favorite chocolate. For endurance events, I have a favorite pair of lush sweatpants that I only wear post-run and find myself looking forward to during the event. 

 

I hope you've found this useful. If you'd like to learn more, visit my Coaching page and sign up for a consult on the topic of recovery. Resting is a vital element of athletic progression and I'm happy to lead you through these steps.

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The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jalal ud in Rumi

via this beautiful piece

IMG_0670 2.jpg

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Fear of the wild

The mass hysteria we feed as part of our fear of the wild within only disables our relationships with the more-than-human. Allow me to explain.

It might not be apparent to the casual Instagram follower, but every single time I run, climb, ski, fish, or spend time outside with my daughter I do so alone, unarmed, and in wilderness (not a State Park or some other peri-urban forest). This thriving wilderness that we call home is full of cougars, bobcats, moose, deer, eagles, bears, and we interact with these neighbors one-on-one many times per week.

Every single run I take I tread where Moose passed mere minutes before, I’ve been followed by Cougar more times than I can count (three times that I know of this last winter alone), and this winter I had the privilege of being followed by a bobcat. I’ve run WITH four moose individuals including one with a calf, one big as fuck bull, and one when I was twenty alone in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The first time a cougar followed me I was alone on snowshoes near Grand Park on Mount Rainier at the age of sixteen.

Every encounter with a furry friend in the woods inspires in me a deeper awareness, an understanding of the truth that I am very small and very insignificant, and that ‘wild’ animals are, in our cultural consciousness, the veritable monster under the bed. Never once has a ‘wild’ animal so much as looked at me askance in the tens of thousands of hours I've spent alone in the woods but do you know what animal is aggressive to me on the reg? Dogs, peoples’ shitty, misbehaving, off-leash dogs. I like to stay away from peopled trails.

As the frequency of my encounters with the wild increases, they become a still-remarkable but entirely normal part of our daily movements in the woods at home. I prefer the kind company of cougar to the unpredictable nature of humans or their dogs any day of the week.

All this to say one thing: If the more-than-human scares you, go walk in a mall - leave the wilderness to those of us who appreciate it and can handle feeling small. 

via Instagram

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