Reckless or inspiring?

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So I went for this run, up a familiar trail and over a few mild peaks. Climbing one more peak took me into new territory and into some interesting rock formations just crying out for exploration.  Explore I did, climbing up rocks that required some skill, but not much (don’t have much) until I found myself at the top of the peak, looking out over vast acres of familiar canyons and tempting new ground.

IMG_20140415_181300_365If you’ve ever gone exploring like this, you might be able to guess how this ended. I got up there, so I should be able to get back down. But a safe way eluded me. I walked from one side of the peak to the other, but I couldn’t figure out where I had come up. I’ve wondered before how hikers end up stranded on a ledge. They got up there, why don’t they just get back down the same way?

Now I know.

The gift of speed that inspired my name is about equal to my gift of grace. I made it back down more or less unscathed, crab-walking, butt-sliding, scree-skating, an overall awkward scramble that would be an internet sensation if there was video.

joshua treeOnce back on the trail I looked back up at the peak. I felt some relief, but mostly I felt that overwhelming sense of some fabulous accomplishment; that intense adrenaline rush as I considered what might have happened, the danger and potential for injury that I had somehow avoided.

So, yeah, I totally get the appeal of Sky Running

Sky Running, in case you don’t know, is a combination of trail running and mountaineering. It is performed by some immortals (like Kilian Jornet, National Geographic’s 2014 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year) that probably don’t have to do a lot of butt-sliding.

Okay, it’s probably performed by a lot of people. The trail running community is full of fabulously talented athletes, crazy amateurs, and drunken dare-takers.

So the question is: Is Sky Running, performed on technical mountaineering routes but with little or no technical gear, inspiring or reckless?

Ummm… both?

IMG_20140826_125633_863If you are a Sky Runner with a two-month-old baby at home, with a mother given to anxiety over your exploits (hint: don’t tell her!) or on a first name basis with ER nurses, you may be leaning into the irresponsible range.

If you are experienced in both climbing and trail running, pretty good at staying upright in most situations, and can count on only one hand your experiences that have gone hilariously awry, you’re probably okay.

I mean, how often are we truly equipped for the adventures we begin? I have a trash bag for emergency shelter, a knife, and a book of dry matches with me whenever I run. I consider these reasonable precautions for my area. I would have to take a loaded-down burro to prepare for every possible problem.

IMG_20130331_131140_090Sometimes you are all the gear needed. If you understand your limitations and are willing to be flexible rather than foolhardy, chances of completing an adventure are good. If you survived an adventure, you apparently had all the equipment you needed, even if it was just running shoes and determination.

So, is Sky Running reckless? Well, obviously.

Inspiring? Hell yeah.

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Beware The Stick Man!

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A Stick Man bridge?

A Stick Man bridge?

My purpose is not to frighten you, gentle reader. My intention is not to leave my fellow trail runners huddled safely inside of their homes or running only on the safety of pavement. I only want to warn you, to raise awareness, to protect you! For the Stick Man is out there, and we are his prey…

I was running alone one day, running up a steep trail that required more walking than I would like to admit. After a brief walk (let’s just say it was brief, okay?!?) I started back into my slow upward shuffle. After two or three steps a stick suddenly hit me in the back of the calf, causing me to yelp, stop, and look around for my attacker. There was a stick, sitting innocently on the trail. Did I step on it? Did I even see it before it whacked me? How did it hit me in the BACK OF THE CALF? I chalked it up to mid-run delirium and moved on.

And that’s just what the Stick Man wants us to do.

Stick Man? Probably not.

Stick Man? Probably not.

I was running with my daughter one day, running down beautiful, shady, smoooooth singletrack. I could hear her behind me. Then, suddenly, I heard her make that grunting sound that one makes when they trip. I waited, hoping to hear nothing but her continued footfalls, but instead I heard a thud and stopped. I sat down by her for a few minutes. We tend to be the “leave me alone for a minute or I will bite your head off” types when it comes to injuries, so I just sat quietly and waited for her to take stock. After determining that she’d kind of messed up her shoulder/arm, she stood up.

“But there was nothing there! It’s smooth!” she said.

We walked back up the trail and could see where her foot had caught a tiny root on the side of the trail. Tiny root. Really? Don’t believe it for a second. Those are the Stick Man’s minions. If I go back and try to find that tiny root again, you can bet it will be gone, moving to new ground, searching for new victims.

You think I sound paranoid? Okay, maybe. But think back…

Have you ever been tripped by a stick that WASN’T THERE A MINUTE AGO?

Have you ever been slapped in the face by a branch that APPEARED FROM NOWHERE?

Have you ever come home with obvious stick scratches but YOU DON’T REMEMBER HOW THEY HAPPENED?

Call me paranoid. Call me crazy. But am I? And if I’m just paranoid, just crazy, then why are there warning signs posted on so many trails?

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A Stick Man warning sign. Ignore at your own risk!

I’ve tried to forget about the Stick Man. I don’t want to live in fear. But sometimes, when I’m alone in the forest, I hear a howling sound unlike that of any beast. I stop and listen. I try to pretend it is nothing. I try to explain it away. But I know what it is. It’s the sound that branches make when they rub together in the wind.

It is the sound of the Stick Man.

And he is watching me.