Spacious-mind musings on the map

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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

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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?

Training Journal Entry: Joy Is My Healer

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it was less that i went there and more that the place wrapped its mysterious breath around me. the light affected me: i was immersed in a dramatic springtime storm that had moved downvalley (as everything was downvalley of where i currently stood). its squall veil shaded harsh blackened spires into a sort of velvet before passing and leaving the place in even higher halcyon definition than before.

i flushed a grouse then worked Nason a bit before turning back. this is the place where in september i'll run a long run with Moose and Wolf and Grizzly very alone yet not. it is more soothing to me to be in the safe company of the wind and broken pines than tamped down in the valley with people.

Kettles Map Project featured in The Spokesman Review

The Kettles are this tiny microcosm of all the conservation issues facing the northwest.

Our little map project is picking up steam according to the Spokesman Review’s article in today’s paper.

Go read the feature piece for yourself!

Brittany Raven

BLEED: an evidence-based take on menstruation and athleticism

I've been transforming the way we conceive of pregnancy and athletic performance since 2015. Now it is time to reset how we think of menstruation and athleticism.

Along with midwife and nutritionist Meg Reburn I've co-authored a short book entitled "Bleed". Join us for our book launch and live Q&A on March 11th via Zoom.

After years of working with clients, Meg and I noticed how much the different phases of the menstrual cycle could affect an athlete’s training, nutritional needs, and overall ability to thrive. The thought popped into our heads, “What if we create a concise, evidenced-based resource that would help everyone with ovaries navigate the different needs during the different phases of their monthly cycles?” And so, BLEED was born.

Your purchase includes a copy of the e-book and attendance at our live, Zoom-based presentation and Q&A on the book.

Expect to cover:

  • Our four-phase framework for understanding your hormones

  • Training, recovery, and nutrition tips for each phase

  • Evidence- and experience-based guidance on transforming how you view your cycling body in motion

  • 20% off consults and coaching booked with either of us within thirty days after the event

You may also pre-submit your questions for us to answer prior to the event. A cloud-based recording will be available after the session for all participants.


Join us for the book launch an Q&A!

Giving up versus giving in

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In endurance sports there is often an unspoken but powerful aversion to vulnerability. Becoming vulnerable means feeling the pain to which you subject yourself; witnessing your own fallibility, lack of preparedness, or even (most terrifying of all) your own power. Athletes often bristle when I talk with them about beginning a dialogue with the parts of them that suffer on long runs or climbs.

And still: becoming soft is vital to realizing your strength. I'll give you an example.

In training for the Wonderland Trail in 2012 I ran a solo fifty miler on the Northside Loop starting at sundown to preview the work in store for me on the real run. It was hot: 85F all night even at 7000' and I sweated quickly through my shirt. Even though I was used to running alone in the dark five mornings a week, the immensity and gravitas of the committing route I'd chosen resonated inside me as fear and with each snap of a twig underfoot I tightened. An owl alighted from a fir bough nearly causing me to throw up in surprise at the dark unknown unpopulated with other humans and stretching into blackness for miles in each direction. At some point, though, I relaxed into the sensation of being followed and yet alone, hooting every minute or so and finding my feathered companion trailed me for a good hour. 

Then, around 3am, a porcupine launched out of an impossibly-small triangular space between cobbles in the trail and its stumpy legs propelled it along close on my heels and all I could think was: "WHAT THE FUCK: AGAIN?" <aside: I was first chased by a porcupine while lost in a swamp at the base of Mount Stuart in 2009.> After this brief sprint, which occurred around mile thirty-seven, I was pretty discouraged mentally and physically feeling spent. Mara assaulted me and I dropped to the dusty trail. Metabolic waste products ached in my legs making them feel like concrete piers dipped in acid, my stomach churned, my mind spoke nonsense to me that I just happened to be tired enough to believe: "You're not a runner or even an athlete, what the hell are you doing out here? You're not good enough to belly up to a goal like the Wonderland alone or at all for that matter. Who the hell do you think you are to be so audacious? You're an amateur, you're broken, you're too tired to finish. You might as well give up now and not even try to run the hundred since fifty was clearly too much for you."

This might sound like giving up but it wasn't because of one key aspect of the experience. I let the thoughts spool out, I let my legs ache to hell and back, I let myself lie there in mud created by my own piss on the dust for a long time then, because I'd given myself no escape hatch, I stood, dusted myself off, ate something, and started moving down the trail.

The rest of the run took on a softer quality. I found myself crying before sunrise (that darkest dark, you know?) in a meadow about which I'd dreamed (which consequently bore the name "Mystic") months prior. Though I was in the kind of immense pain that comes for me around mile forty of every long run, the kind that makes my skin feel too tight and inspires me to peel it off for relief, I perceived pleasure in a cool breeze issuing from the mouth of the base of Thermogenesis a few thousand feet up and to my right. A family of goats joined me as I crested the final hill into Sunrise at sunrise, kids skating shale shards off its crest which slashed my legs as I they ticked uphill like a metronome. In the final drop down to White River Campground where my car sat loaded with blueberries, kombucha, and the remainders of yesterday's burger my shoulders drooped and I felt the relief of having released my goal.

Immediately upon sitting with the spoils of my snacks, shirtless sweaty back leaned up against my truck tire, I looked at the time: it was only 6:45am, a rather short ten hours since I'd left my car the night before. Huh, I wasn't as slow as I thought I'd be. Then, scanning through my body that had been so focused on the importance of its own productive pain, I realized I wasn't injured or even particularly physically spent. What I had convinced myself was impossible overnight, my goal of running the Wonderland solo and unsupported, began to feel possible again as I realized that I'd completed what I set out to achieve on what was likely to be my hardest training run.

I was only able to transform into the mind-body tool capable of containing this mountain gnosis because of my willingness to engage self-doubt, pain, and fear as they arose. If I had maintained distance from my experience, ANS fired up all night in a false sense of protection and reactive control, I would have bonked for real, sending me into what would have been a dangerous situation alone on the trail at night a two day walk from wherever a ranger might depart to rescue me. Instead of resisting the negative emotions, the many Maras of my silly existence, I related with them - however ungracefully it happened. 

When giving up becomes an option, the only way to continue to commit to the growth contained in the experience is to give in. Making yourself vulnerable in the face of creation, universe, or god is necessary to go as far as you can go. To give yourself over fully to the depth of the experience is the only way to access your true power - and let me tell you it runs a lot deeper than bluster, bravado, and happiness.

read more:

Solo and unsupported

Andrea Laughery client interview - Becoming An Athlete

Deep play

Fear of the wild

Performance according to your element

Update on Kettles Map Project

 
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a full room for the REI talk

a full room for the REI talk

Dear forest freaks,

When projects on which I’m working are successful, moving forward, and making serendipitous connections, I find it difficult to report out about them. In the afterglow of a beautiful twenty-four hours spent in Spokane mid-January, I’m finally forcing myself to sit down a pen a debrief for you.

REI invited me to present about the Kettles Map Project back in December and, as a result of that invitation, the events manager graciously introduced me to The Lands Council, a local non-profit with deep roots doing conservation work in the Kettle-Colville area. After learning more about the work Marc and I are doing with the map, TLC agreed to be our fiscal sponsor which will be a huge support as we seek grant funding to get our project off the ground.

The evening of the speaking event at REI went so smooth it felt like a dream. The room was already beginning to fill when I arrived to set up my presentation and get oriented to the room. We tacked draft maps to the walls and got the lighting just right as the final seat was taken. I decided, in integrity to my true nature, to share my full story of how I became interested in working in the Kettles. This tale included episodes of listening to the voice of the land, hallucinating that I was a raven, and how I feel about the wolf killings on the range. A few friends who attended said the audience was riveted; the room was silent until I called for questions. The questions I received in response to my presentation indicated a diverse audience: “where do I go to hunt bear on the Range?”, “are you working with the tribes to include indigenous place names and sacred sites?”, “when will the map be available?”

Through our initial fundraising process, Marc and I realized there is a deep need to first educate would-be recreators on what the Kettles are, why they’re important, and the basics on what to do when they visit. We’re also fortunate to have connected with Conservation Northwest, who co-presented with me that evening at REI, and TLC throughout our public outreach work.

Looking forward to providing another update soon on the project. There are exciting pieces falling into place that aren’t yet ready to be public.

Brittany

 
 

Featured on Trail Sisters

Thanks again to Trail Sisters for hosting my words! Be sure to check out the article and the rest of their amazing resources for lady runners.

Brittany Raven