Barkley sense of adventure
I often day dream about adventures. Every time I look out of a window and see a tree, I think about how I could get to the top. Every mountain that speeds by my view out my car window, I think of the best way to the top. I dream up dreams of obscure adventures, races, team events, or adventure races. I read about sports I know nothing about, watch video's and learn about the subtle differences between nordic and skate skiing, only to find out they aren't so subtle afterall. I think up ways to cross Acadia National Park on different winter gear, on snowshoes or ski's. Climbing ice walls with no ice climbing experience. Nothing is out of bounds, nothing too intimidating. It's just a matter of research and preparation. I'll figure out the rest. But it all but consumes my restless mind.
All the time.
For years I've dreamed about all kinds of adventures, but it always came back to one adventure for me. One that leads me back to my very first trail run with my brother in law Brett. In Huntsville, Alabama we tracked down five miles of single track through the woods that summer, huffing my untrained body behind him as he talked of the Mountain Mist 50K held in that mountain trail system, and of one obscure race held in the mountains of Tennessee.
The infamously famous Barkley. Now so far from obscure after the Netflix documentary came out, and hoards of video and online articles every year, its become nothing short of a spectacle. Some would even say, a Testicle Spectacle.
For a number of reasons, infants and hotel openings being two big ones, I've steered clear of even attempting signup for Barkley. I respect the race difficulty too much to sign up for it when I otherwise knew I wouldn't be able to give it the full due attention in training. With newborns at home, or new hotel openings, it was always a new challenge every year and the timing wasn't ever right.
Until this year.
With Barkley now falling in my hotel off season and me being on the East Coast (although I'm probably still further away here than in Phoenix...) it felt like time to make the attempt. Navigate the unwritten application process, and see if I can write my way into getting into the race. I've come to know a lot of the past entrants of Barkley, a tough breed of ultrarunner no doubt, but a group I feel at home with. It's my kind of ultrarunner and a group I know I can physically hang with in that terrain. Give me a smooth course with a lot of running and I'll blow up. Give me unrelenting 40% hills on slippery slopes covered in leaves and ice and I'll give you Acadia National Park.
I call that a Saturday.
That's not to say I think I can easily complete one loop, let alone more than that. But I embrace those conditions and feel at home in them, it's a challenge that appeals to be in the core of what is running. A challenge not of speed, but of resilience, composure, and pure will power.
I sat up watching the time tick by. I sat with my laptop open. Minutes clicked off slowly. I wasn't sure why I was so hesitant to commit. I had been thinking about doing this for months, the last month and intense obsession that consumed me. I'd read and re-read so many race reports, I was about to dive into some serious off course orientation runs in the dead of winter and my training was already starting to get really strong.
Then it hit me.
For the longest time I've been successful at finishing races, difficult races usually, through very minimal training. A laughable 20 miles a week with 20 of it coming on a Saturday long run. Years go by without cracking 50 mile weeks, but slugging out long outings from the wee hours of Saturday mornings to get done by 8-9 am. It wasn't that I had an un- supportive wife, she's been nothing but supportive, but that from the onset of our marriage we agreed that running wouldn't impact our lives. If I chose to get up at 3am to run 25 miles then I can't complain about being tired at 3pm that day.
The lawn still needs to get mowed. We still have to go to that 5 year old's birthday party that afternoon, and I better not be slug on the floor come dinner time. Like many ultrarunner's, life went on and you just fit it in. But as I climbed the company ladder, I struggled being wrecked in the boardroom on a Tuesday because I was up at 4:30am training at the track that morning doing 400 m repeats for 90 minutes. I was constantly tired and mentally exhausting trying to balance a growing shouldering of work, with little ones at home and a tired wife waiting for relief. Being tired from running became less of a benefit, and more of a burden. So it moved further down the family list of importance. And rightfully so.
Moving to Maine opened up a world of new adventures for me, and rejuvenated my spirit. New trails, new mountains and new trail friends. A diverse and ever expanding universe ripe for the exploring. I dove head long into it all covering every trail I could find in the first year. Looking at every style of map, from every era, finding new and old trails and heading out to find them all. I traversed the island, hit all the peaks, did trails all winter long on ice beds and over ice walls, it filled my adventurous soul while destroying what I felt was a hardened ultrarunners body. Acadia redefined what "hard" really is.
Yet with each run I'm in the forest I'm not at home. That thought overwhelms me as I'm at the office all week and then gone on Saturday. I think about the time I could be spending with them and my wife and instead I'm out in the forest running.
My son Dean is six. He is my mini-me and at the same time and entirely different person I can't quite figure out. He's intriguing in his mindset and what drives him. He's an encyclopedia of knowledge, and a sensitive and honest soul. He wants to spend every waking moment with me, but also completely alone to his own thoughts and time.
Maggie is four and I can tell already she has my competitive spirit and I love her for it. She sees a mountain she powers up it like a gazelle. Fearless, confident and effortless, she goes until there is no more going. She never tires, she never stops smile, she is at home in the mountains and on the trail. She hears me waking up at 5 am to go running and immediately pops out of bed and comes running and tells me she is going with me. What was once a planned mountain run has now turned into an extra 25 minutes getting her ready, and a run/hike with Maggie. So it goes.
Sitting at home this Christmas over the last five days with the family, I realized I was missing something though. While I felt all this guilt out on the trail for being gone, for obsessing about all these adventures I wanted to go on but "couldn't" I was being selfish. I was working hard to provide for my family, trying to be a great husband, trying to be a great dad, and trying to somehow fill this need for adventure in the wilderness all at the same time. But this entire time I realized that the adventure wasn't on a mountain, up a tree or on a pair of snowshoes.
It was sitting right there in my own living room with my family. And I was too busy staring at a map, or looking for it on a trail, to even realize it.
My kids are begging for me to play with them and I was too busy planning my own adventures to even notice. We'd play all the time of course, but I'd convinced myself that I needed my "breaks" from everything else and that getting out into the forest was good for my overall health. It got me outside, out of an office and got some much needed exercise. I know that I need that now, at this stage of my life, without it I get antsy. I don't know that will ever change. But the real piece I realized was after Christmas we went outside, where it was 15 degrees out, and played hockey on our ice pond in the backyard. We grabbed sticks off the ground that as closely resembled a hockey stick as we could find, and we grabbed pine cones for pucks. We picked some rocks for goals on each side, and went started playing.
Hours went by, pine cones disappeared by the dozens (Thanks to our ever present labrador Lucky who loves stealing the puck) and the kids demanded we kept playing. There were hoards of new toys and games to play in the warm house.
They wanted to be outside.
"Dad, I love hockey, can we play this forever??"
"Dad, can you take off work tomorrow so we can play hockey again?"
"Dad, we don't even need hockey sticks, these sticks work great!"
"Daddy, can I play hockey if I'm a girl. I hope so."
We went in at lunch, and went right back out after lunch. We spent almost the whole day outside and it was a lot of fun.
I don't know that I'll ever stop day dreaming about adventures to be had, mountains to climb, or pushing myself with some new found challenge. But this week has taught me that my focus wasn't on the right kind of adventure, because it was happening all along right in front of my eyes. With my wife, with my kids, in this season of life we're in right now.
I just needed to wake up and realize it.
So I don't need Barkley right now, and I held my essay in my inbox for another year.
Right now I've got all the adventure I need.