Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series #6

You must wait six weeks after birth to return to exercise.

FALSE

 

"I've been cleared to exercise!" are often the elated words of a new mom who is an athlete. This statement always stumps me: Is someone besides you in charge of what you do with your body? What good does abdicating responsibility for your own health do for you or your baby? Further, what does 'cleared' actually mean?

Oftentimes, new moms, following the word of their well-intentioned medical practitioner, remain relatively sedentary throughout pregnancy until six weeks postpartum when they get the magickal approval to return to training. Then they re-immerse in their training as though no time had passed since the last time they trained in earnest resulting in prolapse, exacerbated abdominal and pelvic floor weakness, general frustration, and a loss of confidence in their athletic ability postpartum. 

According to a 2014 peer-reviewed article:

Postpartum physical activity can improve mood, maintain cardiorespiratory fitness, improve weight control, promote weight loss, and reduce depression and anxiety.
— Evanson et al, "Summary of International Guidelines for Physical Activity Following Pregnancy"

Despite this motivating statement about the importance of exercise soon after giving birth, most women wait until their six-week postpartum checkup to discuss exercise with their doctors. According to the ACOG, about 40% of women decline a postpartum visit at all leaving them to wonder about when they might be ready to return to exercise. Additionally, the ACOG advises that women seek their postpartum visit between four and six weeks which means that many if not most women under the current model would be "cleared" for exercise much sooner than six weeks if they heeded these new guidelines.

Curiously, the ACOG cites no scientific evidence to support the timing of that postpartum visit instead relying on "cultural traditions" which, in my opinion, are a sorry means by which to govern health care.

The comprehensive postpartum visit has typically been scheduled between 4 weeks and 6 weeks after delivery, a time frame that likely reflects cultural traditions of 40 days of convalescence for women and their infants
— ACOG "Optimizing Postpartum Care"

Let's put aside the current model of care for a moment and think through empowering ourselves to make decisions about our bodies. Whether your care provider deems you ready for exercise or not, you are the ultimate authority on your body. Depending on your birth, your level of fitness throughout pregnancy, and how you feel your recovery is going, you might not feel ready to start training again until ten or twelve weeks postpartum or as early as the day after giving birth. I went into labor while climbing and returned to take lead falls a couple days after birthing my daughter which sped rather than hindered my recovery.

When I coach athletes through pregnancy and postpartum, they all perform differently but they all return to training much sooner than six weeks postpartum. They do this of their own accord, not at my urging. They learn through our coaching engagement to listen to the subtle cues their bodies give them about wellness and readiness to train which is a vital skill for endurance athlete whether pregnant or not. Most new moms I work with return to the gym within two weeks postpartum. They first test their bodies by doing brief, light, low-commitment sessions before progressing on to more intense or longer sessions. Precisely zero of my postpartum clients has experienced a negative outcome to their health or their breastfeeding status by returning to training this soon after giving birth. The key here is a phased reentry into training, not being sedentary for six weeks then overtraining.

So often women are conditioned by the medical system and other women (mom shaming much?) to adhere to a socially-accepted range of normal. The reality is that pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are likely to go differently for a professional athlete than they are for a weekend warrior, different as well for a mindful mover versus a dissociative athlete. The point is that the range of normal is huge spanning the luxuriously slow pregnancy some women dream of to the ultra-endurance pregnancy I had - and they are all correct and healthy ways to conduct pregnancy.

What women deserve is evidence and options so that they can make their own informed decisions about what is right for them. So before you wait to return to exercise until some doctor tells you it is 'safe', check in with your own body and ask it what is appropriate. A gradual return to training might make the difference between positive mental health and a dive into postpartum depression.

 

Read more:

My postpartum experience

Postpartum running

Postpartum climbing

Paige Reyes client interview

Postpartum body

 

Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series #5

Exercising in the heat will damage your fetus.

FALSE.

 

Specific to summertime, preggos often hear this silly, parroted myth. Sources from WebMD to Babycenter pick up the thread, repeating this woman-negative, anti-scientific blather. Addionally, ACOG has recommended that women not exercise in the heat - citing insufficient evidence. Their issue with evidence isn't the lack of its existence but rather their use of twenty-five year old papers.

In order to potentially harm the fetus a mother's body temperature must exceed 102F - and I dare you to try and exercise hard enough to induce that kind of fever. The idea that exercise could raise the mother's body temperature to a level that may harm her child is untrue:

Of the limited studies of exercising pregnant women, there are no data suggesting that normal women actually exercise to a level of exertion that causes significant hyperthermia. However, these studies have been limited to nonathletic populations, in which the exercise has not been prolonged and of high intensity, or sufficient to induce dehydration.
— Murray/Katz "Thermoregulation In Pregnancy" (https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-199010030-00002)

As I've discovered in the rest of my research on current pregnant athletic mythology, the myth is not only false, it couldn't be farther from the alchemic truth of the pregnant body's capabilities.

Pregnant women have improved heat-dissipating ability, which is enhanced further with exercise conditioning.
— Hammer/Perkins/Parr "Exercising During the Childbearing Year" (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595006/)

Wait a tick... how the heck does that work given we've all been told that a pregnant woman will overheat more quickly? As it turns out, the same pregnant physiology that makes pregnancy function like blood doping AND the way heat training increases heat and cold tolerance (increase in plasma volume) also allows the pregnant body to more-efficiently dispel heat during exercise. Pretty neat!

So, next time the 100s plant themselves in your town and you want to take your round, strong, pregnant ass out for a run or ride hydrate up, wear your tiniest shorts, and hit the trails - fear-free.

Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #4

A pregnant athlete should expect to recover more slowly from her workouts.

FALSE.

 

Increased stem cell activity initiated by the fetus in its mother's body has a two-fold positive affect on the recovering pregnant athlete's body: 1. Faster recovery from injuries and 2. Increased rates of angiogenesis.

Something NFL athletes have known, and exploited, for quite some time is that increased stem cell activity reduces their recovery time from injuries and surgeries. In particular tendon injuries seem to see a healing burst as a result of increased stem cell activity. By better understanding the meaning and utility of exercise, one can also extrapolate the importance of a boost in stem cell activity in recovery from particularly strenuous exercise.

Bones and tissue in our bodies are constantly breaking down and replacing themselves. During exercise, bone and muscle tissue breaks down as an adaptation to the applied stimulus and is replaced by stronger material. The faster this process can occur, the faster the athlete can recover, the more stimuli can be stacked close to one another, the stronger the athlete can feasibly become.

By thinking about recovery from weight-bearing and endurance exercise as the need for tissue regeneration it is easy to understand why, when I was pregnant, it was near-impossible to become sore from a workout and I felt my recovery time had decreased. It is also good to note that one major aim of endurance training is to induce higher rates of angiogenesis, or endothelial cell proliferation and an increase in capillary blood vessels.

Enter fetal-maternal microchimerism (also known as fetomaternal microchimerism or FMc). According to Zhong and Weiner's 2007 study on pregnant mice:

Fetal stem cells appear to respond to maternal injury signals and may play a role in maternal tissue regeneration during pregnancy. Massive new blood vessels were formed around the injury site which indicated the incidence of high angiogenesis events during the recovery of the skin injury. 

In an even more mind-boggling turn, the fetus continues to supply stem cell support to its mother even after it has departed from her body.

Fetal cells have also been identified in skin lesions of women with systemic sclerosis, a disease of unknown origin which often occurs in women after their child-bearing years.

This boost in FMc continues for quite some time according to Bianchi et al

In humans, PAPCs (pregnancy associated proginator cells) have been described to persist in mothers almost three decades postpartum.

 

This means that recovery times decrease and the injury-assisting qualities of fetal stem cell activity increase in the maternal body even after pregnancy. Now that is some rad sci-fi shit I couldn't dream up if I tried.

If you're into doing research on this sort of thing, doctors, please do us ladies a favor and dig deeper on the topic than I was able to do in this article. You owe it to preggos everywhere. Those burly NFL players only wish they could be pregnant athletes.

source

Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #3

A pregnant woman should eat for two.

FALSE.

 

In an odd turn of events, What To Expect actually gets this one right. A 2002 Institute of Medicine study advises:

No additional calories for the first trimester, 340 kilocalories (per day) the second trimester, and 452 kilocalories (per day) for the third trimester.

That said, recommendations vary based on maternal BMI and pre-pregnancy nutritional status. It is also interesting to note:

Hytten (1980) estimated the energy cost of pregnancy to be 85,000 kcal.

That is the equivalent of 425 Larabars! Amazing. Good thing the preggo has ten months to eat that much extra food.

Also:

Energy requirements are greatest between 10 and 30 weeks of gestation, when relatively large quantities of maternal fat normally are deposited. Substantial fetal demands (56 kcal/kg per day) are offset in the last quarter of pregnancy by the near cessation of maternal fat storage (Sparks et al., 1980).

In an interesting parallel, premenstrual women have increased caloric needs that outstrip the increased caloric needs of their premenstrual peers. Check out this excerpt from a study on basal metabolic rates throughout a woman's menstrual cycle. In the premenstrual period, scientists found:

RMR was 0.99 +/- 0.16 kcal/kg/h. The energy expenditure while sitting was 1.06 times RMR, while walking it was 2.81 times RMR, and while performing treadmill exercise it was 3.47 times RMR.

This means that your increased interest in ALL THE FOOD is far more (metabolically) appropriate in the days preceding your period than it is during pregnancy. Of course, what you need to eat and what you want to eat are often different things and this is not a prescription about how you must eat. Use these data to make choices about how you eat and I urge you to not read into this data-oriented post any sort of shame about how you should eat while pregnant. If you read this and decide to eat more than you need or differently than what is simply nutrient-oriented, that is your prerogative. When you do indulge, enjoy.

So next time someone shames you for how you eat or look, tell them to step off - and share a bit of hard science. After all, science is the most effective antidote to misogyny.

source

Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #2

A pregnant woman's immune system is suppressed throughout pregnancy.

FALSE.

 

In sources as diverse as the ever-incorrect What To Expect When You're Expecting to Science Daily, people positioned as experts on pregnancy trot out the same fallacy about womens' delicate immune systems. As you likely gathered from my previous post on this topic, advice that runs contrary to scientific fact (as established by peer-reviewed research) just rankles me.

So instead of continue to allow misogynists like What To Expect and Science Daily to treat the female physiology as though it were some fragile instrument, I'll allow an excerpt from Gil Mor and Ingrid Cardenas' 2011 paper entitled "The Immune System in Pregnancy: A Unique Complexity" to do the talking:

Is the systemic immunity of the mother suppressed? Although we can find numerous studies describing the factors inducing immune suppression (including progesterone, defined as the natural immune suppressor), medical and evolutionary aspects are against the concept of immune suppression. Pregnancy represents the most important period for the conservation of the species, therefore it is fundamental to strengthen all the means to protect the mother and the offspring. The immune system is one of the most important systems protecting the mother against the environment and preventing damage to the fetus. It is during pregnancy when the maternal immune system is characterized by a reinforced network of recognition, communication, trafficking and repair; it is able to raise the alarm, if necessary, to maintain the well-being of the mother and the fetus. On the other side is the fetus that, without any doubt, provides a developing active immune system that will modify the way the mother responds to the environment, providing the uniqueness of the immune system during pregnancy. Therefore, it is appropriate to refer to pregnancy as a unique immune condition that is modulated, but not suppressed.

This unique behavior explains why pregnant women respond differently to the presence of microorganisms or its products. Therefore, pregnancy should not imply more susceptibility to infectious diseases, instead there is a modulation of the immune system which leads to differential responses depending not only on the microorganisms, but on the stages of the pregnancy.

 

So, instead of continuing to falsely believe in maternal immune system suppression, let's begin to rethink the function of the altered immune system during pregnancy. The changes a mother's body experiences during pregnancy in fact allows a more sophisticated immune response and deeper cellular-level discernment in the face of immunologic threats.

This doesn't sound weak to me, this sounds downright superhuman.

 

Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series #1

Pregnant athletes should keep their heart rate under 140bpm.

FALSE.

 

Though the incident, a final among many, that prompted me to write this salient and super popular series happened over two years ago now, I still hear from folks who have heard me interviewed on podcasts about this material, I use it in every coaching engagement with pregnant athletes, and I get weekly emails from pregnant athletes around the globe asking about this body of work. Hence, I’m reissuing the series one more time before translating it into a book.

So, here’s what happened: Another experienced athletic coach and parent who lives in the same town as me started talking with my friend and me at the crag about my talk at Vertical World on pregnant athleticism. During the event my friend had asked a poignant question about stigma, motherhood, and double-standards when it comes to being a pregnant or mothering athlete. He had more to say about the woman shaming I faced during my own pregnancy.

But before he could finish his thoughts, the other coach cut in and said (in a sadly well-timed vignette of an exchange):

"There's nothing that special about you training through pregnancy, lots of women do it. The only thing you need to do is wear a heart rate monitor and make sure your heart rate doesn't go over 140."

She, being the vastly senior and more respected endurance coach, did not expect what I said next:

"Actually, that is not based in fact and has been rejected by evidence-based practitioners. There is no heart rate limit for pregnant athletes who are well-trained."

And the evidence is on my side - and on the side of any preggo willing to push it on her next run or climb. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic:

"If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, there's no need to focus on your heart rate for exercise during pregnancy."

Further:

"There are so many rumors out there, some started or perpetuated by popular pregnancy books, others the result of old wives' tales or outdated advice, so that many women really are confused about what they can and can't do. People are still stuck on this heart rate issue, and it was never based on anything concrete,"

says high-risk pregnancy expert Laura Riley, MD, spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and author of Pregnancy: You and Your Baby. ACOG is infamous for its overly-conservative views as they pertain to exercise during pregnancy. That rote false-fact nearly everyone who trains or cares of preggos says is wrong. No science. No evidence. Like fake news is to politics, this platitude is manipulative propaganda designed to control and oppress.

I take it seriously when other coaches, especially women, espouse non-evidence-based, misogynistic, one-size-fits-all limits on womens' athletic activity while pregnant without doing the work of educating themselves first. As a coach I am responsible for finding the right balance between challenging my clients and keeping them safe. For me, a core function of being a coach is keeping myself up-to-date on the most recent exercise physiology literature. This coach, in direct conflict with her many decades of experience, merely parroted a platitude she'd heard other coaches and medical professionals say many times before without the critical examination limits such as these deserve.

Culture limits pregnant athletes out of fear rather than equipping them with the evidence they need to choose how they would like to conduct their pregnancies––and I’d rather govern my health using evidence than superstition and old wive’s tales.

I hope you enjoy the final post of this series in this space before they go the way of the book!

Brittany Raven

Spacious-mind musings on the map

IMG_1424.JPG

For four consecutive summers, my attunement with and relationship to the Kettles has been the axis of my spirit’s turning. 

2016: A force that focused me and gave me hope when I was deep in a haze of postpartum anxiety. Choosing to listen to myself when it made no logical sense.

2017: Cosmic cairns the moment of the total eclipse that validated that listening to the tiny voice of wisdom in my head was the right decision. Creating art with alpenglow, Eagle, and feet; thin, tanned limbs flapping. Giardia.

2018: Alone/not-alone, feet weaving the broken land, heroic dose. Serendipitous connections making possible the seed of an improbable intuitive notion from back in 2016. Artistic fulfillment.

2019: Making my part-time home on a granite bluff overlooking the complicated landscape that holds every bit of my heart that doesn’t already belong to Rumi. Feet meeting dirt making map.

I welcome the uncertainty and hard work it will still take to birth the map. I recognize the map is still only the beginning: unfound bull trout lurk near northern banks in my dreams, springs well up and cascade down cliffs, unclimbed granite looms large under it all and I wonder: 

“Will I ever find the years to become intimate with this place, the sacred Sinixt H'a H'a Tumxulaux?”

read more:

Spokesman feature

Kettles Map Project update

Kavu feature

Some handy run-fish-run tips for you DIY anglers

running to a distant alpine lake with a sleek Tenkara USA rod, summer 2018, self-portrait

Rain dappled the breast of my jacket and my running sounds kept me company as the four-leggeds and birds slept through the squall. I rose on mist and looming pines grew squat then gave way to the feathery heaven of nearly-green larches camped stream-side. As the high country opened, I felt my mind return to its natural state: weatherless, having forgotten the wind had ever blown through my branches, receptive to the experience of motion with the more-than-human; listening. Downwash that smelled like a recently-drowned campfire traveled from the col a hundred feet or so above me and the anticipation hit: there’s the lake.

Many athletes tread into the high country on a mission, seeking to conquer the living environment with whom they move; this is false. The athlete can never conquer the land, it is the other way around: the land owns us and our job as spirit-athletes is to attune and to allow ourselves to be formed by forces much greater and enduring than our singular bodies. Finding solo, unsupported ultra running while living in verdant Salish country in 2010 and subsequently moving to unceded Mətxʷú (Methow) territory in 2015, my running squarely supplanted my alpinism as chief activity of awakening. However, spending my first summer in the sagelands, I found the heat nearly unbearable. Spans of triple-digit heat stretched for four days at a time that summer––and I had no A/C to shelter me from the experience of being baked by the sun. Needing an excuse to linger in a cold body of water and curious about the language of fish borne on the voice of water, I bought my first fishing rod, a Tenkara USA Iwana, and taught myself to fish.

I remember so clearly the first time I embarked on a run-fish-run; it was completely intuitive. Having just learned the fine art of not backcasting into brush and how to navigate the shoreline so as not to alert lurking trout of my presence, I found myself simultaneously overheated and in need of a good romp on trail. In the Methow and Okanogan where I live, the choicest waters for tenkara are located deep in often-burned wilderness generally accessed by only the most persistent backpacker on a multinight sojourn but, on a desperately hot day in July 2015, I realized I could run to my favorite alpine lake, fish to my heart’s content, and run out under the cover of the cool evening dark all in the space of a long afternoon. I strapped my Iwana to my backpack next to a pair of landjägers and my journal then drove too fast to the trailhead and began.

Now as a Tenkara USA guide and the first and only outfitter (ever! anywhere!) to offer run-fish-run trips, I am glad to share a few tips here to help you get out to an alpine lake or stream near you to make like a bug.


Gear up: You’ll be wet wading, standing barefoot in the water, so shorts or a running skirt work best as far as apparel. Since you’ll spend time standing relatively still in the cold water, it wouldn’t hurt to pack a jacket or a pack towel. A hat with black on the underside of the brim and polarized sunglasses will help you see into stillwater to locate fish. Most running backpacks will ably carry the new Hane (pronounced “Ha-nay”) rod from Tenkara USA––my fave. This rod was designed to be ultralight, versatile for a range of different types of waters, and a big plus is it makes no rattling sound when you run with it. Pack a few flies (barbless Ishigaki Kibaris are my current go-to) in an empty film canister, your line, some extra tippet in a weight appropriate to your rod (this varies widely and matters to the integrity of your rod), and, if you plan on keeping any fish, a pocket knife and plastic bag. Especially if this is your first try at RFR, pack double the snacks you’d otherwise take on a run of the same distance.

Find your water: In its purest form, tenkara fishing happens on tight streams––think: subalpine swiftwater. It might be hard to believe any fish can travel up ladders of granite into the high country, but watch in amazement as brazen trout huck their way upstream. For beginners, alpine lakes provide a wonderful place to practice slinging flies. When you’re choosing water, this is a great time to research the fishing regulations in that specific area. Note that regulations can vary from lake to lake, throughout seasons, and might indicate even the kind of fly you’re allowed to use. When in doubt, hire a reputable guide. Alpine water, whether still or swift, is often difficult to access and deserted. Be sure you’re up for a remote and perhaps wild ride to get to your lake or stream of choice.

Observe: Once you arrive at the water, take note of your surroundings. Take note of the direction of the wind, if there is any, and the direction from which the wind comes. See if or where any streams flow into or out of the lake. If you are on swiftwater, note the patterns of riffles and eddies. Eye your choice shoreline––which for a beginner will be well away from brush. For all of us, it is a good reminder to be mindful of the direction in which you sling that fly. Watch the bugs in and on the water. Do the bugs sink to the bottom and cling to rocks? Are they small and quick on the surface? Your job as the angler is to imitate food so gathering information on their activity is a key part of fishing. Deeper still into your RFR practice you’ll begin to notice a lot about fish activity and mountain weather––what a treat.


I’m proud to announce that I am booking trips for summer 2019 on the Okanogan National Forest!

If complicated fishing regs and confusion about where to begin with tenkara are keeping you from beginning, sign up for a day on the trail and water with me––I’ll show you the way.

Originally posted on Trail Sisters 2018

Elements of athletic maturity

2CCCE1A7-589C-4CA6-9B8E-3AE908A1DFBE.jpg

As I mature in my endurance practice I root deeper into the idea that mine is less one of seeking to achieve and more one of learning to listen. ‘Epic’ means nothing to me and, instead, my increasingly powerful and resilient body seeks feats of subtlety, participates in events shrouded in lonesome mystery, and my turning legs beat out ephemeral half-answers to questions that will continue to drive me for decades more. As I become stronger, I become more ferocious and, paradoxically, more interested in the small things, the unremarkable experience of living my life in the forest.

The spring season floods us with more energy and ideas than we know what to do with so I put together this brief guide to ground your mountain endurance practice.

Patience: As water eventually cracks granite (melting/freezing or barreling through) this driven athlete has realized the ultimate power of patience as an endurobeast. Patience is not akin to passive waiting but is, instead, the soul sister of tenacity. Patience has a quality of quiet knowing and the humbleness to put in the work again and again.

Acceptance: This winter I trained my literal ass off for a specific desert running project only for inclement weather and trail washouts to make the run impossible. The day I was supposed to do the run into which I’d put so much work I blithely pointed my car at a different trailhead and had a fulfilling run anyway. Why? Because if I wanted to always complete the objective I want to complete, I’d be a triathlete. The mountains are a dynamic being with whom to collaborate and I’ve learned to accept defeat, joy, and being broken with equal gratitude.

Audacity: The natural extension from the previous is the quality of having the self-awareness and confidence to dream (and train) big, bigger, biggest, even beyond what any existing paradigm suggests is possible. Never been done before? No problem. Your family/friends/partner/coach doesn’t think it is possible/prudent/safe? Who gives a shit; do it anyway and create your own paradigm.

Self-knowledge: As I weave this guide to athletic maturity I see how connected and interdependent each of these qualities is. Audacity is dangerous to the athlete if it is not grounded in an accurate self-assessment of skill, personal capacity, health, and preparation. Exercising self-knowledge allows the athlete to tailor their practice to their weaknesses and their performances to their strengths.

Injury- and illness-proof: The athletes I admire are not the ones who accomplish their goals through brute force, leaving them at risk of illness or injury as a result. The athletes I admire have learned their ‘tells’, knowing and respecting their needs for rest, understanding humbly when to back off a climb or away from a slope. These athletes are seldom, if ever, injured; they do not drive themselves into overtraining.

Support: As an endurance athlete, it is your responsibility to be secure enough in your own practice to support others’ practices. This goes for those who excel where you struggle or for those who simply can’t keep up with you. The strongest climbers, skiers, and runners I know don’t critique my performance and my ideas, they are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Be that secure bitch who wholeheartedly encourages your fellow athlete.

Creative isolation: While the athletic community as a whole seems bent on this idea of ‘sharing is caring’ or ‘to go long go together’ or ‘the more the merrier’, I find my most genius, rapturous, unhinged athletic/spiritual feats happen in total creative isolation. I choose not to have many, if any at all, athletes in my circle of friends. I choose not to read climbing or running literature. I don’t pay attention to how other coaches coach. I simply attune myself, scrub my powers of perception clean, and lead from my soul. The purest creative acts arise from isolation, not by being diluted by others’ accomplishments or under their influence.

Discernment: Some of the best creative advice I’ve received over the years is this: “Your diamonds are not for everyone”. Not everyone you encounter on your athletic or personal path is deserving of or equipped to understand your gnostic, wandering endurance practice. You are under no obligation whatsoever to share your projects, your training sessions, and your reflections with anyone––ever.

Sensitivity: The ability of the athlete to accomplish their macro-level task (completing the climb, run, or descent) with facility is a useful one and certainly core to the very idea of athleticism. However, accomplishing the task but lacking subtle awareness of one’s surroundings, inner state, health, and connection with the more-than-human leaves the accomplishment hollow, devoid of meaning and impact on the athlete. Instead of fretting about what pausing to observe a bear munch berries will do to your Strava rank, understand these serendipitous encounters to be not ancillary but central to your athletic maturity. In the microcosm lies the truth of these experiences.



What's so wild about wilderness?

out on the land, x̌aʔx̌aʔ tum xúlaʔxʷ , Apr 2019

My spirit needs space, my powers of reception require regular scrubbing, my feelings only feel safe when I’m in the good company of a broad expanse of our shared body––this sweet, capricious earth.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the construction of ‘wilderness’. Wilderness is actually not natural; though the designation serves a purpose and though I actively campaign for roadless designations in various places, it is a constructed reality. We’ve altered the land in such ways that returning to some idealized past Golden Age is simply a nationalistic notion masquerading as environmental consciousness. Humans, since the inception of our species, have managed, collaborated with, harvested from, and been in co-creative relationship with the more-than-human––even and, perhaps, especially the wildest places.

The idea of wilderness obviates the endurance of our very real, very constant, inalienable connection to the places that own us. It saddens me to observe the predominant, white, corporate narratives of conservation and recreation leaning far in the direction of dissociative attitudes toward the more-than-human.

We have, collectively, accepted that ‘wilderness’ is a place we visit, not a place we belong. We have built ‘wilderness’ into a thing to which we are either the savior or the destructor. Such dualistic ways of believing about, behaving toward, and, ultimately, administrating the un-administrable natural world to which we belong perpetuates ideas of us being the most important organisms sharing this great big body. News flash: only our egos believe we’re at the top of the food chain which is why so many of us tread the woods armed and scared even while acting macho.

I do not live in the woods in an attempt to escape the rest of the world; I have painstakingly woven myself back into the land, pressed hard against ki’s soft, moss-covered granite expanses. My life depends on our daily interweavings in order to function; my work is here, my love is here, my purpose, my thoughts, and, yes, my feelings. Think: do you move in the forest to forget or are you truly in the act of re-membering?