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June 5, 2014

Why Mountains?

I could blame the entire thing on Ayn Rand, of course, but then that would be a cop out. It was somewhere, during reading her books, that I became aware of the dominance of man on its landscape. This took me down the path where I became more enamoured by the ability of man to build, to construct and to, for no reason, take us to the top of the mountain.

It was also around the time I opened my mind to experiencing more, rather than banging my head entirely against the Ironman way of life. It was around this time I discovered mountain biking, fell in love with trail running again and really, for the first time, looked at the mountains and the roads for healing. I had hidden behind the training for so long, and found myself in the mountains, alone, where there was nowhere to hide.

I faced demons, grew emotionally and fell in love with the world.

While it all sounds contrived, this really happened.

The mountains came calling as part of the healing process. Today, they are the therapy I need to maintain my balance in this world. It is not without coincidence that I wanted to learn to conquer them too. As a previous flatlander, I learned that I could only improve my ability to climb if I climbed more. It forced me out of a comfort zone. Now, I consider myself one of the better climbers in any bunch, whether its running or riding. This gave me a confidence I never had.

The mountains are also the best form of cross-training there is. I had been going forwards, in a straight line, for so long that I forgot how to move sideways. The mountains returned a suppleness to my movements. They brought strength I lacked and now, I use them to keep me strong. They are my gym.

The mountains took me to Italy last year where I learned that we merely have hills here. I learned that there is always a bigger hill, and sometimes, the metaphor ‘mountain’ is bigger than the physical one. I learned that the head space that comes from excursions, is the medicine.

And so, now, I seek them out. I am discovering new paths and trails on my doorstep that fill me with so much joy that it’s tough for me to see myself running on the road.

So when people ask me why mountains, these are some of the reasons I could give them. Instead, I try and encourage them to try them out, see what they offer. In the first few months, they will be like a cruel mistress – one day you will be in charge and the next, the mountains will punish you for your arrogance. Once you learn that you never conquer them, they give you so much in return.

This morning, I took a hike/run in the dark up Devils Peak to see if there was snow up there.

Mom – I have been for a scan, and the doc says I have a brain. Sorry.

I geared up properly in a waterproof top, long tights, backpack with Rehidrat in there, Garmin to guide me and took 2 lights. I ran solo and have been 100% on a high all day because I gave in. As I took my first few steps, I said to the mountain that it was in charge, that I was under its guidance.

Spoilt, is the word I got back to the car uttering. Views, waterfalls, lung-busting climbs, screaming woooooooo! descents and the fresh air in my face, I felt more alive than I have in weeks.

So I urge you, get out there. Start on the roads, and go up. Test yourself. Find the big climbs in your area and climb them just because. Don’t time yourself and just focus on giving your very best. In time, you will want to find bigger places and for that, the crunchy sound of dirt will be best because we have a trail network in this country which is incredible!

Some tips, for the newbies:

1. If going offroad, always carry a medical pack. Duct Tape, Safety pins, Cable ties, Compression bandage (not socks) and super glue will be perfect. It doesn’t take up much space. It might be for you, or for the other trail junkie you find en route who has just fallen. Pack a space blanket too.

2. Know your limits, and push them a little.

3. Always take a jacket. Mountains are unpredictable in terms of weather, so make sure you take something for the worst scenario.

4. Make sure your phone is charged. Explaining where you / fallen trail junkie are with a potential broken leg on 1 bar of battery is a stress nobody needs.

5. Stop and admire the views.

6. Laugh at yourself. When you start, you will feel like you have two left feet. This will get better, I promise. But only if you laugh at yourself.

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That’s it really. Time to play.

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