Cracking Woods

(serialized fiction)

My watch had just chirped marking thirty minutes into my run, so it must have been about half past six in the morning.

A gust of wind shoved its way through the wooded ravine. The trees responded in a wave. A roar of a hundred million rustling leaves built in crescendo puncutated by the groans and cracks of old tree limbs straining under the percussive bassline. A tiny bird erupted from the undergrowth and startled me. The waxing dawn light filtered through the stand of trees and lit the trail with an ambiant glow that cast shuddering shadows on the rough and twisting path. I was wearing my red shoes and there was a grape-sized splotch of mud on the left toe.

These are my memories.

The mind is funny and selective about the things it recalls.

In fact, I felt the punch of the branch hitting my shoulder and back even before my mind registered the noise of the nearby cracking wood.

Does sound actually travel faster than shattered chunks of wood, or did my mind prioritize the events of that moment?

I tasted the acid bite of mud mixed with my own blood simultaneously to understanding that I was face down on the narrow path.

The moments after that were even more ethereal. These memories of those fleeting seconds before I lost consciousness were a mix of curiosity and frustration. The gust of wind had passed. The trees were creaking as they swayed with residual momentum. My arm seemed to be nailed to the ground by a splintered piece of tree. And I couldn’t seem to reach up to pause the tracker on my GPS watch. The last thing I remember was thinking that the pace on this morning’s run was going to be shit.

(cracking woods - part 01)

Gaige Gildon is a fictional trail runner who lives and trains in Edmonton. After a trail accident, he quit his tech job in 2019 to focus on his recovery and his passion for outdoor adventure. In 2021 he partnered with The Cast Iron Guy blog to write and post about his upcoming pan-Canadian multi-sport trip.

Backpacking: Lakeside Cookout

Thirty seconds after I took this photo, I took a second version using the panorama picture mode on my iPhone. That second photo is the desktop wallpaper on my computer monitor as I started writing this post.

For whatever one photo is worth:

In the summer of 2017 we trekked up the skirt of Mount Robson (pictured) to camp for four nights in the woods beside Berg Lake (also pictured). Four adults, two kids, and all the appropriate gear to sleep, cook, and enjoy a backpacking adventure in the Canadian wilderness.

The glacial lake, named for the ice berg patiently crumbling into it, pulled a brisk wind across its barely-thawed waters. The wind could shift, and did multiple times per day while we were visiting, and bring brilliantly clear skies or creeping clouds, or even a soaking rain that left us running for shelter and drying out our gear for hours afterwards.

One particular evening the wind stopped for long enough for someone to suggest that instead of cooking in the sheltered safety of our campsite, that hauling our cooking gear and food the hundred meters or so from the campsite down to the beach was a feasible idea.

A trio of roughly-milled log benches made for hacky seating and smallish tables for our kerosene stoves, and an unusually beautiful place to boil the water to rehydrate our dinner.

As we sat beside the lake. Watched the kids throw rocks. Traced the flights of the birds swooping nearby. Listened for the distinctive crack of a bit of ice escaping the glacier across the water.

We boiled our creek-filtered water and broke the silence of the mountain valley with the jet engine roar of our cooking tools, scarfed our dinners, and by the time we had dropped our empty bowls back to the bench the wind had shifted once again and the frozen air was sweeping off the lake to disturb our beach picnic.

In all we stole perhaps thirty minutes from the unpredictable weather to enjoy a rare and random experience, and all from an unplanned suggestion in the still of a peaceful moment.

I Don’t Know Much About Buddhism but…

I’ve been using the name Bardo as a username for a few years, and it turns out that this is a word that I inadvertently borrowed from Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

I write “borrowed” because in real life my name is Brad.

Brad becomes Bard becomes Bardo just so easily.

Yet, having used it for a while and then thinking about it a lot since, there is a significant degree of existential overlap between what I intend to write about on this site, and what the metaphorical expression of the original term loosely means.

Used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. Metaphorically, bardo can describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness or during a meditation retreat.

Wikipedia on “Bardo”

Given that Buddhism is a religious philosophy and not a culture, per se, I’m going to make a huge assumption and say that I don’t really view co-opting philosophical ideas and constructs as appropriation any more than trying to learn a foreign language might be cultural appropriation. It’s about communication and understanding.

And if I think about the overlap of the idea of bardo (as much as my undertrained mind can process it) as a kind of transitional purgatory between everyday life on one hand and a kind of idealized state of existence on the other…

… well, that seems a bit like a campout in the woods to me.

Single Track Somebody

Sunday Runday.

Still locked into my solo routine from an abundance of pandemic lockdown caution, I veered from my planned course yesterday. I left the house thinking of a simple suburban streets run, my typical get-er-done route. Instead, I turned ninety-degrees at the trail access, and trotted into the river valley to tackle a stretch of weaving single track.

I lamented last Sunday at the frustration of solo training. Friends who I usually spend multiple hours with every week, exploring local wilderness and who would have followed me (or vice versa) into a sketchy, frosty route through the wooded miles, are also sticking closer to home and training alone.

Yet I had some company on my single track trek.

A pair of fatbikers appeared and then followed a few dozen meters behind me at and into the trailhead.

The choppy snow was grippy enough for my modest pace, up and down and weaving through the forested valley terrain. We call this type running rollercoasters because its never flat, never straight, and never for the feint-of-heart. My pace always reflects on conditions and how I’m feeling.

But for a pair of fatbikes, I guess, it meant ride just slightly faster than a slow guy in sneakers. They paced me and crept closer and closer up behind, calling out some hellos and convo about the conditions, until about halfway along the kilometer-long route I felt it wise to pull left and let them pass.

Then I kept pace with them for the last three hundred meters, give or take, until we dodged back into the nearby neighbourhood.

In short, training alone is lonely, but temporary training friends are never in short supply if you know where to look.