Adventure Runs Season Two

I may have written earlier this year about how I’ve spent each of the last two summers devising a weekly run outing for my running crew.

Each week over about fourteen weeks of summer we would meet at a location I’d disclosed earlier in the day for a six to eight klick run.

It could be through a neighbourhood. It could start in a bedroom community outside the city. It might wind through the river valley in an interesting place. It just had to be somewhere interesting, new or both.

What adventure from 2021 will be forever etched upon your memory.

for whatever one photo is worth:

In mid-June I summoned the runners to a location on the far east side of the city in a small park area adjacent to a billionaires row of oil refineries.

From here the mighty North Saskatchewan river wends past the last few suburbs of Edmonton and out into the vast prairies, Atlantic-bound (or at least towards the Atlantic via the Hudson’s Bay).

We parked, lathered up in bug spray and trotted off into the valley at a casual running pace.

Along the way we encountered treacherous cliffs, uncertain detours, instagrammable locations to pose with rusted out vehicles, paths lock to construction, bushwacking through low tree branches, a small but wet water crossing, a climb up a grassy summer ski hill, and a slog through an ill-marked trail …or three.

It was a kooky but amazing little evening adventure.

And it was topped off by the fact that as we all went to drive away home from the single exit to the park, there stopped a freight train blocking our path of escape for nearly an hour. We all wandered around outside of our queued up vehicles and lamented the real meaning of an urban evening adventure that ended with a prairie blockade.

Local adventure is what you make of it. It’s finding something new, even if new is just a few minutes drive from where you live, work, or usually play.

I think back on that evening in mid-June and how it defined what could go sideways on a quirky, loosely-planned run, but it also highlighted exactly why we crave such things at all. It is now, even almost six months to the day later, stuck in my brain as one of the weirdest evenings of the summer… in a good way.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

That [insert adjective here] Guy

Earlier this evening we went for a winter holiday walk with a small group of friends. A couple streets tucked away in various places around the city decorate to the nines and attract curious light-lookers to wander and glimpse the decorations.

It wasn’t my idea but I organized it.

I organize a lot of things for my group of friends.

Without asking how would
people describe you in 2021?

I’d describe myself as mostly modest, but if you asked a dozen or so people who like lacing up and running local trails all year long I think they’d probably describe me as the guy that keeps it all together.

It’s a small thing. I set up run plans. I plot summer adventures. I make sure there are occasional social events. I’ve organized snowshoe outings. I’ve ensured that numerous beer nights have seen maximum raised glasses. I have everyone’s birthday in my calendar.

Small things. Itty bitty. Clinging firmly to a tiny group of friends and holding it all together.

Small, but maybe important. At least that’s how I’d like to think they’d describe it.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

All Hallows’ Eve

Happy Halloween!

With near certainty, within a week or so I’ll be shovelling the sidewalk clear of fresh snow and contemplating pulling my cross country skis from storage.

But … as of right now it is still October, the air is crisp but not quite freezing, and as the sun starts to set over to the west I’m busy putting out the last few decorations and readying a big bowl of candy for the inevitable arrival of wee trick-or-treaters.

We spent the better part of the weekend cleaning up the backyard, raking the fallen leaves from the grass, and stacking the outdoor furniture in the shed.

This year I again set up a cozy set of wooden benches around my backyard firepit and kept the campfire supplies handy near the front of the storage area so I can attempt some winter cookouts outdoors. Last year the snow fell and I piled up small heaps and built burms into a campfire cove in the middle of the yard where we cozily cuddled around our old fire bowl. This year I hope to improve on the design and add the cooking capacity by making use of my new-this-season fire pit. What would be more fun that toasting a big pot of chili over the fire come December, warming up that big cast iron Dutch oven for a steamy winter wonderland feast right in our backyard?

Still, we have a few days of pre-snow to enjoy the dwindling remains of the late-summer and autumn.

In the neighbourhood one subdivision over they are likely to send off the month with a celebration of Halloween fireworks. I’ll hand out some candy from our front door, click off the lights as the evening grows later, and wander across the street to check them out.

Boom! Crack! Pop!

And … boo!

Then. It’s basically winter. Alright, that is a little scary.

Into the Woods and Fog

I’ve been tangled up in a philosophical kinda-sorta feedback loop inside my own head.

See, nearly two weeks before sitting down to write this post I ran a half marathon through the local wilderness. Anyone who carefully read that post may recall that I briefly alluded to a conversation I’d had with a local trail running legend while there. It was a few minutes, a few shared words, an hour before the race started.

I don’t want to make a big deal about that conversation specifically, or name my interlocutor insomuch that this post comes up in a search somewhere, or even just pull him into this tangled thinking of mine anymore than I need to … because having followed him on the socials for a couple years (a) I don’t think he would be the sort of guy who would like that, and (b) that conversation is more of a catalyst for another bigger idea that I’ve been cooking in my brain, than it is the main idea itself.

But nevertheless, I will fill in the gaps.

If you are anything like me, you know that there are sticky ideas that occasionally gum up the works of the dusty corners of our minds. These may be ideas that are not worth actively thinking on day after day, but even so seem to wend their ways into and between the empty neurons of the subconscious mind and then simmer away in the background as if a spicy pot of chili in a huge cast iron dutch oven set atop some glowing campfire coals. Those thoughts are always there bubbling away, requiring the occasional stir or taste check, but otherwise independently cooking … until suddenly the chili is ready to eat.

That conversation I have an hour before the start of the race is mostly a pep talk from a seasoned amature athlete, a local guy who has made good with his feats of endurance, has run and won many races around the world, and now shows up to volunteer at races so the rest of us can play in the trails. According to our chat, he’s tackling some incredible challenges in the next couple years, races of physical fortitude that I barely believe can exist, let alone be taken on by a mortal being, and yet there he is casually telling me about these incredible goals he has set for himself. All while he is offering me a genuine nudge of encouragement along my difficult (but essentially entry-level) ultramarathon experience.

Then in the middle of that conversation he points vaguely towards the trail leading into the wilderness, a splash of autumn colour in the leaves wrapping around a narrow footpath that quickly disappeared into a twisting twelve kilometer endurance race route.

“It’s really just about spending more time out there,” he says, and pulls his phone from his pocket, ” and less time on this thing. If more people just spent more time out there…” he adds vaguely, implying something or another. It is a bit of gummy thought for my brain … the onions for a simmering pot of mental chili.

It’s a big idea, but maybe not even anything much more than an obvious one.

I spend too much time on my device. I admit it.

My phone screen is the first thing I light up even as I’m walking the dog to the back door for her morning pee. I nuzzle up with a tablet and the world news or the NYT crossword puzzle as I’m sipping my first coffee of the morning. I hunker down with a bank of glowing monitors eight-hours-per-day five-days-per-week so that I can do my job. I text. I video chat. I chill with the family to watch television. I sneak some time here and there with a dualsense controller in my hands to justify buying a six hundred dollar video game console. Hey, even this: I relax in my off-time by cranking words through a keyboard so that I can post a daily rambling blog here. Then I conclude my day listening to podcasts or audiobooks as I play my solitaire card game app for a few minutes before bed.

Sure, I also ran nearly fifteen kilometers through the river valleys with friends over the last couple days, and the dog sees her fair share of local trails multiple times per week, but by far the most prominent way I spend my time … a fact I’m sure is true for so many others … is with a glowing screen in front of my face.

I reply to my ultramarathoning hero with my own more specific suggestion, ironic in itself. “I’ve been watching this Youtuber …” I offer. “He’s this Australian adventure filmmaker who does some interesting videos on the clash of civilization and nature. His big theme seems to be that we’re disconnected from the world in this ineffable way and he’s trying to untangle that for his own purposes through humble self experimentation.”

That Youtuber is named Beau Miles and (because his new book doesn’t ship across the ocean to Canada quite yet … at least not at a reasonable price) I am listening to the audiobook version as I walk the dog through the foggy park this morning, the crisp air biting at the tips of my fingers. The dog is delighted to scratch at the frosty tips of the grass, but at seven am I only have so much patience for that.

We forge onward and through my headphones the autobiographic description Mr. Miles’ youthful yearning for a life of adventure, of tackling the big world in whatever way he could manage it, loops me right back to that conversation I’d had at the start of the ultramarathon a couple weeks before. Spicy peppers for my simmering mental chili.

These are not new ideas. Arguably, I started this blog exactly for this reason: to answer this calling for a cast iron lifestyle, days filled with excuses to be outdoors, in front of a hot fire, cooking real food and feeling real terrain under my feet.

Having this space creates obligation to post, which creates a need for subject matter expertise and filling, and that in turns drives me to put the screen down and do these things of which I write. Into the woods. Lighting up fire. Heating up iron.

Out of the fog?

That feedback loop I mentioned is a recipe for a spicy pot of chili that I can’t quite get right, though, no matter how much I simmer it in the idle coals of my own mind.

These two adventure seekers unknowingly adding ingredients into that mix, one at the start of an epic race, the other from across an ocean (and through a screen of all things!) They are just two influences on the things I seek to do in searching to find an answer to a question I haven’t even been able to articulate let alone make headway towards such clarity … as much as I’m virtually certain that I’m not alone in that quest.

What I do know is that there is a conflict between the simmering background thoughts and the stuff that is actively nearly-burning in the foreground. It is a rivalry between the stuff I need to do and the stuff I want to do, between what I am currently and what I could be some day… if I knew the trail to follow, the recipe to cook, or even just the questions to ask.