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philosophy

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?

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

Beware the one-size-fits-all training plan

Why don’t I sell one-size-fits-all training plans?

Bottom line: they're irresponsible.

Many endurance or running coaches out there make a pretty penny on the passive income source they call 'training plans'. Though passive income sources are enticing, my top priority is to support my clients and community on their path to a more sustainable, nourishing endurance practice.

When I do create training plans, they are tailor-made to an individual client and not derived from some algorithm. I don’t simply hand the plan over to the athlete to implement, we check in multiple times per month to be sure you’re on track and to adjust as circumstances dictate. Sure, this is far more time-consuming and expensive but who wants to half-ass an investment in their health and performance?

A few reasons to shun pre-made, mass-marketed training plans:

  • It is much easier to over train than to under train an ultra-endurance athlete - and overtraining is costly. Without knowing your specific fitness level (to a scientific degree of specificity) your online 'coach' runs the risk of colluding in your overtraining. Train smart, not rigid, by hiring a coach rather than buying a plan.

  • All athletes begin training for each event at a different starting place. Consider these two athletes training for their first 50k: Jill is an experienced alpine climber having had many successful climbs lasting longer than twenty-four hours. She doesn't particularly enjoy running, but believes running an ultra will be great cross-training for alpine climbing season. On the other hand, Mark is a regular 5k runner. Though he's never moved longer than ninety at a time he's confident his good form and recovery practices will carry him through training. These two athletes need, and deserve, coaching tailored to the factors they will struggle with throughout their training.

  • Ultra-endurance training often requires course-correction. As the athlete settles in to her training plan, whether for a climb, run, or ski event, she is bound to notice places where she could push harder and places where more active recovery will suit her. This is why, at Magnetic North, we check in at regular intervals throughout our relationship. During check ins we can up your strength training, dial back your mileage, and shuffle the schedule around to accomodate a vacation or illness.

I offer single-hour consults on the topic of your choice, gait analysis on trail, and multi-month coaching packages.

Who I don't coach

When I niched down authentically in this here small business, there were a lot of potential clients I either started saying “no” to or who were turned off by how I communicated my brand. And that’s a good thing.

Of all the varied athletes I DO coach from ultra-runners to alpinists to mountain guides to wingsuit BASE jumpers to US Military Special Forces to your regular ol mom/athlete getting her grind on at her local trail system and at the climbing gym, there are a few groups I don’t coach. Here’s that list and a brief reason why.

  • Cyclists: Y’all have your own brand of crazy and a lot more specifically-trained and -qualified coaches (uh: Zones 5a, 5b, and 5c? Who comes up with this kind of torture?). I’m just not right for you unless you want to talk mindfulness, the nervous system, and visualization. In that case, I’ll totally coach a cyclist.

  • Nordic skiers: Similar to the above and I’ll add to that that I’ve tried to get into Nordic skiing and I just can’t. Like sold-my-skate-setup “just can’t”. Also, I find Nordic skiing (especially skate skiing) to be not a true mountain sport as you must have a human-maintained trail on which to move in order to conduct these sports. Simply not a great alignment with my values, skills, or interests.

  • Triathletes: Similar to cyclists, triathlon has a whole host of highly-specific coaches, trainers, and very deep peer-reviewed evidence base behind it. Of the very few triathletes I coached prior to screening them out in my client selection process, all of them had an active eating disorder, strayed from my well-crafted training plans built specifically for them, and thus we’re not a good match. My coaching doesn’t work unless my clients heed my advice and, while I’m happy to coach those in recovery from an eating disorder, I’m not qualified to coach athletes through their eating disorders.

  • Competition addicts: You know who you are, Strava user who thinks corporations and comparative models of achievement define what an ‘elite’ athlete is. Though I coach many athletes for competitive events (Emily! Jeff!) these athletes are process-oriented and actively seeking to quiet their minds and turn down the volume on their egos. These athletes understand that the event for which they’re training is only a finger pointing to the moon - and they don’t mind when I ask them to ditch pace-based training. If you want your coach to only help you go faster or harder, I’m not the coach for you.

Authentically yours,

Brittany Raven

Solo and unsupported: more than a matter of style

daily sessions on my private trails bring me peace and balance, Summer 2017

My relationship with being alone in the forest as a tool of self-discovery and intimacy with place goes back as far as I can remember. When family gatherings as a child or, heck, my own birthday parties would get too stressful for me I’d retire to the sturdy limbs of the nearest cedar with my journal until all the guests had departed. Often I’d invite friends over for play dates as a kid to appease my mom then spend the entire time they were at my house evading and spying on them or constructing makeshift tents out of the brown tall grass, whiling away the afternoon alone and daydreaming. At recess during elementary school I spent my time making concoctions of whatever plants grew on the playground or I stayed in the library and read, invariably alone and not at all miffed. This behavior continued into my teens as I made my first forays into the mountains solo.

The first time I remember conducting an endurance activity alone in the mountains I was sixteen and on snowshoes. There is a minor ridge to the north-northwest of Mount Rainier––the trail was near my home and where I’d worked as a volunteer with the Department of Fish and Wildlife so I felt comfortable there and I admired the mountain whose milk had nourished me all through childhood. Though the entire hike was less than eight miles long, I saw no one the entire way up. When I doubled back on my path of ascent, I began to note cougar tracks laid in to the square patterns made by my snowshoes. That was the first time I felt the now-familiar mix of fear, responsibility, and wonder that comes standard with each of my solo ventures into the wilderness. That snowy day I also realized that, by putting myself at the mercy of the more-than-human yet remaining aware and not dissociating by arming myself, I felt the natural order of things in the woods and my heart was tender, my ears were sharp, my attention diffused itself to perceive the slightest movements and sound in the silent understory.

Following that first time in the mountains alone, I began hiking to my favorite alpine lakes alone that summer; this was less because I preferred being alone and more because I found my friends were less reliably available to join me than I’d have liked. When I was twenty I took up mountaineering; that same summer I rode the train then hitched in to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park on a ten-day backpacking trip alone. On that trip I interacted with my first moose in the wild and I coped with fear so profound that at night it felt like a hand pressing on my chest as I tried in vain to sleep. 

This quickly devolved into runs from Camp Muir to the top of the Cleaver solo as a twenty-two-year-old climbing ranger on Mount Rainier. Once the slowest and most cautious person on the mountain (literally, not hyperbolically) I surprised myself by striding out alone, unroped across the Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers in my lightest crampons. I liked the feeling of efficiency, traveling without so much as a pack to slow me down, and the way that my lack of safety devices demanded that I use my mind to discern subtle bumps in the snow that might be collapsable snow bridges and to take note of the speed at which I traveled downhill in different consistencies of snow. In 2010 I set the first female speed record on the mountain, simul-soloing next to my late partner, Chad Kellogg, and ultimately deciding to tell no one about the day’s activities. The feeling of total awareness combined with complete relaxation, the giddy action of leaping over gaping crevasses next to my soul mate, is one I only replicated with the homebirth of my child five years later.

Together, we also climbed solo on alpine rock and waterfall ice. The most indelible of these experiences came one day just before solstice on our yearly trips to Canmore to ice climb. We climbed a multipitch waterfall unroped and in perfect synch next to one another. This took a lot of trust, not only in my own technical abilities, in the ice and in him. Climbing together that day, feeling the ringing of my solid sticks in plastic ice and the vibration of his tools landing in unison, goes down for me as one of my favorite moments in the mountains. We found safety in moving fast together but still solo.

Chad’s boldness in his solo endeavors and the elegant simplicity of his alpine aesthetic poured fuel on the loneliness-seeking fire inside me and solidified my own stylistic leanings as a spirit-athlete. When we parted ways, I began to run ultras solo and unsupported as a way to feel less confused by other people and more in the company with the beings with whom I knew I belonged: the trees and the animals. Over the next couple years I ran distances from 50k to 100 miles, some that I had never run before, solo and unsupported adding up to twenty-seven ultras alone at the time of writing.

I taught myself to rope solo the summer of 2014 but didn’t begin to rely on that tool as one for regular training until the summer of 2015 when I moved to the Methow. I realized that, alone, I could knock out a ten-pitch session in less than a quarter of the time it would have taken with a partner. Sure, I didn’t get the opportunity to lead given that I was top-rope soloing at the time, but if fitness and simple movement on the rock were my intended outcomes for the day then rope soloing was the vastly more efficient way to get it done. I continued rope soloing through the first two trimesters of my pregnancy with Rumi and, as a parent, rope soloing has often been the only way to get in a few quick pitches as parenting compresses my schedule.

These days, in the summer and autumn I rope solo and run alone six days a week; in the winters I run and ski alone six days a week - many of these days include two solo sessions in a day (climb/run, or run/ski, or on the best days run/climb/ski). I have never been late to check in with my safety people and have self-evacuated after my two injuries alone in the mountains - one evacuation had me run/walking twenty miles alone and hypothermic, the other bleeding from four orofices with bursa in my knee deployed and a shattered pinkie knuckle.

These days, solo and unsupported is my happy default - rock, snow, and trail. I’m no Honnold, nor do I ever want to be, but here’s this introvert’s guide to the ethic of the solo, unsupported athlete.

Brittany Raven

 

on a speed climb on Rainier conducted simul-solo, Summer 2011, cr. Chad Kellogg

 

What is soloing for runners? For running this can encompass a broad spectrum of what is considered “solo”. This begins, in its mildest form, as a fully-supported run completed alone. The runner’s crew might maintain aid stations, refill the runner’s water, provide bodywork on the fly, and do course marking or navigation for the runner. But why deal with the annoyance and distraction of other people clogging your spirit work and complicating your plans? In its most extreme, solo running takes the form of solo, unsupported, onsight runs in the mountains. This is the same for skiing except in ski mountaineering where a pair of skiers can solo by simply choosing not to rope up or a single skier can go out alone.

What is soloing for climbers? Climbers can rope solo, either top-rope or lead, on a variety of terrains from sport crags to alpine multipitch climbs, to glaciers, to big walls, and on aid pitches. There is a lot of complexity between and among these varied types of roped solo climbing. A climber can also simul-solo, solo alongside a partner on rock, ice, or glacier, which is a common practice for a team of experienced climbers wishing to travel swiftly through easy terrain between harder pitches or steeper, more broken terrain. Sometimes unroping in this environment is the safest decision for the team. The most risky soloing a climber can do is to free solo (climb without ropes though sometimes still in a harness) on a bigwall or mulitpitch route - especially one she or he has never climbed before. The levels of risk, experience, and judgement involved in decisions about soloing while climbing range widely from top-rope soloing to free solo bigwall climbs.

 

I go alone because I want to be free, Autumn 2018

 

Why? For athletes for whom comparative, patriarchal, capitalist models of alpinism originating in whiteness ring hollow, there exists an alternate path: going alone and sharing your journey only out of joy, not conquest or personal gain. This path is little-discussed, stigmatized, and old as time. Every spiritual tradition has, in its structure, a wisdom-seeker who goes into the wilderness alone to seek or construct situations that alter their ordinary perceptive reality into one of non-dual awareness and psychedelia. It is my personal belief that this is where most mythology springs from. Some athletes choose to solo simply because their need for movement outstrips the availability of partners. Some go because they like to be quiet, as a break from their lives of constant social obligation.

Internal risk factors: Reserves, physical and emotional, are the first consideration in choosing whether or not to go solo. If it has been a stressful week at work, if you’ve not been sleeping well, or if you’re in emotional distress, either choose to not solo or choose a solo activity with less objective hazard or one in familiar terrain. Risk assessment capacities are vital to develop and maintain as a solo athlete and they can be compromised if you are observed, if you’re tired, or when you’re stressed. Medical training for solo athletes is a must. Attain and keep current at least a Wilderness First Responder and become familiar with the types of self-rescue systems you might need to employ if you are rope soloing in any sort of terrain. There are creative ways a soloist on a glacier can protect herself when crossing a crevasse and important knots, hitches, and pieces of equipment a climber must learn to use to release the load on a rope or to lower themselves safely back to the ground. Be sure you have solid navigation skills before venturing into the mountains alone. Pregnancy is not necessarily a risk factor in the solo endeavor rather the person’s individual health and skill level should be the determining factors.

External risk factors: Objective hazard comes in many different flavors depending on your mode of travel: avalanche, crevasse falls, wildfire, rockfall, tree wells, adverse weather events, falling off a wall or trail, and deadfall in historic burns all make the list. Other people in high-traffic areas are a particular concern for female mountain movers. Animals rank lowest for me on my list of external risk factors.

Mental training: Part of being solo and unsupported that refines me is the component of total commitment. If shit hits the fan, I am the only one out there to resolve things––I have to let go of any sense of being the victim of my circumstances and take responsibility for what is in every moment. The athlete should have a sober and realistic assessment of her own abilities including technical skill, planning, and fitness before venturing out alone. Fortitude, the quality of persisting either stoically or softly under pressure, is vital for the solo athlete and going alone will cultivate this in you. Rather than allowing yourself to bonk hard at mile twenty or thirty-six or sixty or at hour twenty-four when you’re out alone, transform those lulls in the event by implementing grace windows instead, walking and feeding your way into them so they hit in a less-acute way. Cultivating any sort of mindfulness practice - sitting, visualization, lucid dreaming, or astral projection - is an invaluable tool for the soloist. You stop being a hero or a martyr the moment you eschew outdated dualistic thinking and instead move in a gnostic paradigm.

 
alone in the Bob, Summer 2007

alone in the Bob, Summer 2007

 

Physical training: When first embarking on solo endeavors, I advise athletes to choose their local training grounds and routine places for alone training sessions. The solo sessions can increase in complexity as the consistent fitness and boldness of the athlete increases. If you want to go alone on new terrain, at a new distance, or under any unfamiliar circumstances, you must first attain an ample endurance base, be in perfect mental and physical health, and accept that additional degree of risk. For some, this level of risk is motivating and exhilarating; for others it is distracting and debilitating. Also choose your solo activity in each discipline in alignment with your skill level at each. For example, I might be comfortable running a solo, unsupported ultra in unfamiliar terrain while I’m only comfortable soloing on alpine rock in places with which I am intimately familiar and whose rock is quite stable.

Safety (or “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”): Leave a plan for your outing with a local safety person. This plan should include a map, where you’re parking, when you anticipate being back in contact with said safety person, and instructions for that person to get in contact with the relevant Search and Rescue professionals in the area if you’re not out on schedule. Carry a satellite GPS tracking device, preferably one with the capability to send and receive messages. These are two important safety concerns and I’ll note here that I’m a hypocrite: I do neither. Though I usually leave a plan with a trusted safety person when I ski or climb alone, many of the trails I run are secret, unmapped trails whose location I won’t disclose to even my best friend. I simply don’t have the $500 to buy a sat phone or pay for the annual subscription. The latter I hope to remedy in the coming year; the former will likely remain the risk it currently is because solitude is solace.

Contraindications: Solo wilderness travel is contraindicated for those people without adequate training, those who lack a clear plan, and those who have experienced the need to be rescued in the past as a result of poor decision-making. Soloing for an audience, whether your friends or a camera crew, is additionally reckless and negates the ego-transcendent properties of true aloneness. Additionally, people in dissociative relationship to their pain and fear are not qualified to travel peacefully and uneventfully alone in the wilderness. People with poor mental health might think of a rash solo trip as the only balm for their pain, this is incorrect. Whether alone or in a group, your most effective safety tool is the mushy, grey one between your ears.

Communion: Alone, I am vulnerable and unguarded - in stark contrast to my daily life among unpredictable two-leggeds. Alone, I am creative and ferocious, forgiving and alive, attuned and magnificent, grotesque and tired. Alone, I realize the emptiness of all things. Above all, going it alone is about connecting with the people with whom I most identify: the trees, rocks, snow, and animals. In this sense, solo and unsupported is less a romantic notion of accessing the unsullied, the undisturbed, the placid and more the practice of plugging in to a subtler frequency without the fetters of ropes, partners, or coordinating plans with someone other than the moon, the snow, and the weather.

Why I use the pronouns 'ki' and 'kin'

Objectification of the natural world reinforces the notion that our species is somehow more deserving of the gifts of the world than the other 8.7 million species with whom we share the planet. Using ‘it’ absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation. When Sugar Maple is an ‘it’ we give ourselves permission to pick up the saw. ‘It’ means it doesn’t matter.
— Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Nature Needs A New Pronoun"

You may have noticed in my recent Instagram and blog posts that I use the terms ki and kin to describe the more-than-human. 

While reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass as well as listening to her interviewed on my favorite podcast, On Being, I developed an affinity for her work and felt it resonating deep down in my spirit. Kimmerer is a professor, a community leader, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and a brilliant writer exploring the intersection of science, culture, and intuitive knowing.

We know we're a part of the land with whom we dance. On a cellular level, transcending all politics or spiritual beliefs, we remember ki is a part of us; the physical and experiential representation that we are, indeed, one organism incarnate in multitudinous different bodies yet all dependent on Earth and Source.

These endurance practices that bring me into greater attunement with the natural world with whom, and as whom, I move are my practices of awakening. By assigning a dehumanizing, dead pronoun to them I place myself in hierarchical superiority to kin's unthinkable power and intelligence. That is false.

As we begin speaking and thinking about the natural world in terms that recognize kin as yet another living being, other antiquated constructs also fall easily away. The paradigm of competitive achievement begins to look unnecessarily extractive to the athlete on a spiritual path of onenes. Notions of 'conquering' a mountain or 'devirginizing' a summit begin to feel as violent and non-consensual as they actually are.

By speaking about the land (snow, ice, owl, dirt, rock, trees, deer, all of them) as our equals, as co-creators in the mountain experience, we create space for beauty, connection, and recovery alongside the more-than-human and between each other.

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!

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

The ego and the universe

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
— Alan Watts (via Brainpickings)