My fingers gripped securely along the knife-edge of rock, and I took comfort in the firm stay of my shoe rubber on the two-inch ledge. I could smell the heat coming off the slab as the newly-risen sun began to heat it, the slight breeze wicking the beginnings of sweat off my skin. I paused to let my gaze drift up to the peaks across the canyon and filled my lungs with the glory of the morning. I couldn’t help the hint of pure joy that played at my lips. Here I perched, on the South Ridge of Mount Superior, hundreds of feet of air and mountain below me on either side, and all I felt was strength and peace. I stole a backward glance at my adventure buddies for the day. I took sincere pleasure and pride at watching Jenna traverse the same moves I had just done, with Craig coaching her through just the one tricky spot.
We’d been waiting for this day. We were ready and confident. The journey was exhilarating, but the most surprising feeling to me was one of safety. I felt safe. My own abilities were more than adequate for this route, and I knew that should the unpredictable happen, I had the very best help nearby. I have trusted both of these friends with my life on a regular basis, and not just on the mountain.
A darker day. The linoleum on my bathroom floor was slightly sticky with remnants of long-dry hairspray, reconstituted by the sweat of my hands. I sucked in just enough stale air into my lungs to release a short sob. I can’t do this. I don’t know how to live like this. Please, can it stop?
I hadn’t been mentally stable in months. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder combined with the physical and psychological effects of long term copper poisoning had me terrified of my own brain. I crawled to the cabinets and strained to reach my phone from the counter top. I needed help. I needed contact from someone. I scoffed bitterly through my tears. How ironic. Sitting alone on a flat floor in my nice house with my kids playing in the next room, and I didn’t feel safe. I texted my husband, and then my best friend. I could always count on Jenna.
As avid lovers of the outdoors, we spend a fair amount of time in what many people deem ‘dangerous’ situations. Whether route finding in the wilderness or navigating an urban jungle, in the trail and ultra running world physical safety is never guaranteed. It is largely dependent on experience, training, instinct, and attention. By design, this sport tests the boundaries of the human possibility. Pushing ourselves to the limit is an accepted part of the game. As the scars that crisscross my own skin testify, bodily harm in some form is probable. My mom might laugh that I don’t consider myself a big risk taker. She isn’t shy about commenting on all my awesome Instagram posts, “Don’t forget there are people who love you and need you to come home safely!!” Such messages are sprinkled liberally with scared faces and heart emojis. (I love you too, mom.)
As stupidly brave as we may seem, those of us who choose this lifestyle know that there are alternate lives that hold far deeper danger. Lives we dare not risk living. Inactive and overweight- ‘safely’ sitting on the brink of a heart attack. Strung out and rarely sober – with everything focused on the next fix or the next drink. ‘Safely’ working 100 hour weeks just to numb out from a world we don’t know how to connect to. Lying ‘safely’ on the bathroom floor, wondering if the pain of stepping in front of a bus would be worth the release from this existence. We’ve glimpsed these dead ends, and we choose the better risk.
I cannot possibly count the moments of growth and self-discovery manifest on these mountain trails. Long hours of movement have been put toward burning off anger, coming to accept life’s current limitations, birthing new creative ideas, deciding to dare greater in my everyday life, or finding understanding in a loved ones differing perspective. I have learned patience here. I have learned confidence here. I have become on these trails, roads, and ridge lines. If not for the so-called risks of this sport, I would not be the whole person that my dear ones long to keep safe. I know from experience that the alternative – stagnation, stifling, and disconnect are some of the most perilous threats to my mental health, and my physical health as well.
We all hug mom and promise to be careful and safe, and we mean it. Because this is the safer lifestyle for us. A lifestyle of connection and adventure, joy and freedom, long miles, ridge tops, fresh air, passion, and peace. This incredible life full of safety worth risking for.