What does success look like?

At midday on August 3rd, day 3 of my Arctic Trail Run, I emerged from what felt like an interminable 25 km stretch that alternated between cruising through acres of fjellbjørkeskog — forests of gnarled mountain birch, stumbling through thickets of overgrown willow canes, and feeling the bounce underfoot of sunken bridges crossing bogs nearly without end. All with the steady whine of a posse of mosquitoes always in my wake.

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Leaving the forest on the way back to Norway. Day 3

This less-traveled section of the Nordkalottleden as it diverges from the Kungselden east toward Norway still wore the patchy vestments of the year’s late winter snowpack: a bridge unhinged from its moorings and scattered along a half kilometer of river bank; grasses brown and laid flat by snowfields only just melted away; snow melt coursing down sloping trails leaving traces deep with slick mud; and everywhere painted in a gradient of seasons from leaf to flower to bud to snow.

Here, in the land of the midnight sun, I am surprised by the tenacity of snow, but no longer by the countless unnamed, unmapped streams nor by the sodden ground left in their wake.

Later in the afternoon, I descend into a wide plain of lakes, rivers, heath, and bog. The trail takes me across a bridge over the Suollagajåhkå river and then sweeps across a raised plateau of arctic birch and bog. I had studied this section of trail in satellite photos and maps for hours, looking for a trail junction. I knew it would be hard to find, and under a warming sun, alone in a landscape suddenly bereft of vertical relief, I miss the unsigned, unmarked and seldom trodden turnoff and have to retrace at least 2 km until I finally manage to match the map to my GPS to the terrain before me.

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The trail dissolves. Day 3.

After reversing course, I find myself, finally, fording the broad Valldajåhkå and beelining through an unmarked bog toward the first sign I’d seen in hours — a reassuring reminder that I was still headed the right way. Relieved, I stop for a minute, have a handful of cashews, put the valley behind me, and begin a long, sinuous ascent northward back and forth across the border and towards my first resupply at the end of 200 k.

 

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A sign. Day 3.

I do not yet know that I will face an uncrossable river later that night at 11:00 pm, nor that the tingling in my left shin will evolve into a full-fledged debilitating injury over the next two days.

For the moment, I’m happy to move beyond the valley and back into a landscape of granite and snow and silence and a sun growing lower in the west.

Sometimes, I find success in these moments — traversing a bog, following an unmarked trail, finding a trail marker.

Sometimes, success is an embrace of humility and an acceptance of our limits.

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“The humility of the flower at treeline opens the way up the mountain.” Dag Hammarskjøld. Day 8.

The Resolution of Experience: The 2017 Arctic Trail Run

Under a low gray sky and into a steady soaking rain at 9:30 on the morning of August 1st, I set off from the Den Norske Turistforening / DNT hut at Ny Sulitjelma, planning a run of 50k by day’s end. After climbing the 400 meters to a high pass between Norway and Sweden, I soon realized that I’d be facing not only the weather, but a snowy spring and cold summer had left behind a deep snowpack, buried trail markers, and rivers overwhelmed with meltwater.

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“bridge”

In short order, I rolled up my running pants, forded two rivers of knee-deep meltwater, crossed undermined snowfields, and waded through countless shoe soaking streams.

All in the first 5 kilometers.

Conditions, I learned later, were more typical of June than August.

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typical trail conditions on day 1

Nonetheless, 50 kilometers and many many wet hours later, I was setting up my tent in a slackening rain on a flat section of sodden heath on a Swedish hillside.

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making camp, 11:00 pm, day 3

I knew I had four consecutive 50-65 km days through similar alpine terrain (and its associated lowland bogs), weaving back and forth across the Swedish/Norwegian border before my first resupply, but I knew at the end of that first day that this was going to be a run unlike any I’d attempted before — it was my first extended self-supported stage run, which was itself an added layer, but so many other challenges presented themselves one after another:

  • The trail-less expanses of springy heath, depthless moss and bog;
  • The miles of overgrown willow canes crossing the narrow path;
  • Suffering through 18 hours of GI distress on day two;
  • Waist-deep fords of class II rapids;
  • And, finally, and most severely, a mounting pain and swelling in my left shin that started late on day 4 and grew progressively more acute with every step.

It was this humbling, hobbling, often searing pain that eventually convinced me that 8 days and 360 km were enough when I reached my family in Abisko, Sweden.

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Solitude standing: on the border of Sweden and Norway, day 3

I had set out with the intention of running the whole of the Nordkalottleden over 12-14 days, and when I considered stopping early as I ran the last 70 km along the Kungsleden, I weighed a few things:

  1. Pain was really keeping me from finishing my 50 km days in good style and was distracting me from my focus on the landscape surrounding me.
  2. I had already completed what was arguably the most challenging and beautiful section of the trail along the Norwegian/Swedish border during days 3-6.
  3. I had found what I had come to the Arctic to find. Further mileage would no doubt have added to the adventure, but as it was, the layers of experience and depth of learning were profound and will take time to understand and appreciate.
  4. The past year — and the coming months of writing and sharing stories, pictures, and video — are both as important as the run itself. I’ve already started the work of building conversation across communities, countries, and ideologies. I cannot wait to do dive in fully — this is where the essential work of Climate Run happens.
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Crossing the Sieberjåhkå, day 2

Each day I continue to be more grateful to everyone I met and talked with along this journey and to everyone who has continued to be so supportive. There is so much to share and so many stories to tell. I’ll share some of them here, others in pictures on Facebook or Instagram, and still more in what is quickly becoming a larger writing project that will tie together CR 2016: Iceland, CR 2017: Arctic Trail, and many other experiences in something resembling a book.

More about that later! 🙂

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Midnight sun on the shores of Sijdasjávrre, day 4

 

Climate Run — Here we go!

Tomorrow morning I leave from the southern terminus of the Nordkalottleden just north of the old mountain mining town of Sulitjelma. Nearly a year of preparation – physical, logistical, mental, financial – all lead to this singular effort: to run the 800 kilometers of the Nordkalottleden in good style, with reasonable speed, and without injury or incident.

You can follow my progress on my online map here.

I could not have made it this far without the support I’ve had through the past year of training and preparation. I’m grateful beyond words to so many, and I am inspired by the dozens of people running and walking along with me for the next two weeks. I can hardly wait to get back and share all the stories!

But first, there’s work to be done.

See you all soon ❤

P

 

Melt: Dispatches from the High Arctic

On our last full day in Svalbard, Orion and I made a wide arc across the ridges east and south of Longyearbyen yesterday, covering the summits of Sukkertoppen, Gruvefjellet, Trollsteinen, and Lars Hiertafjellet, while arcing across the ridge behind the glacier, Larsbreen.

The skies were the clearest of our week-long visit here, and the views were incomparable, with endless ridges of glaciated peaks and valleys newly tinted green. While our eyes and imagination were drawn to distant horizons, the one constant throughout the day was most often just underfoot — the sound, presence, and often, unfortunately, palpable cold of running water. Everywhere — under the snow, atop the hard ice of the glacier, meandering through swales of fine silty moraine — it was the braiding of these many streams that heralded the warmth of this Arctic summer day.

Melt is, of course, an essential annual event for the Arctic — allowing a few short weeks in which millions of migrating birds, resident reindeer, foxes, and hundreds of species of plants revel in the relative warmth of this briefest and most intense of summers.

One can’t help, though, but place this annual flood in the context of our warming global climate — in which for instance, between June and August 2015, in Svalbard alone, glaciers lost four and a half million metric tons of meltwater every hour, and billions of tons of glacial ice are lost each year to global warming.

Like many aspects of the Arctic, this is nearly impossible to imagine, but being here, seeing both the immutable beauty of the hard blue ice of Larsbreen and Longyearbreen and the power of their melting waters, helps to bring this imagined world into clearer focus.

Melt from Pavel Cenkl on Vimeo.

Ready? …Set? …Run!

The countdown is on — wheels up for Scandinavia on July 16th, and Climate Run 2017 gets underway on the morning of August 1st!

We’ve been scouring online and paper maps of Norway, Sweden, and Finland to make sure every one of the 800 kilometers is accounted for.

Much of the trail is visible in hi-res satellite photos, but it often disappears in low-lying woodlands and snowier highlands. Regardless, Den Norske Turistforening (DNT)Svenska Turistföreningen, and luontoon.fi all have fantastic map resources, which have been helpful in plotting daily mileage goals.

The Arctic Trail Google map is shared and accessible, too.

Those goals right now average 35 miles per day, with a long day of 41.6 and a short day of 30.6 over 12 days. However, only ground-truthing the route will reveal the reality of what I’ve spent month planning; there are just too many variables to try to account for everything in a schedule.

Join the 2017 Climate Run! 

Support and enthusiasm for this project have really helped to motivate the long weeks of training over the past year — from the 500-mile challenge to generous donations and in-kind support — and I’d love to keep folks involved even more while I’m on the run.

I will be running for 12-14 days starting on August 1st, and I’m inviting everyone who is able to run at least a little every day that I’m on the trail.

You don’t need to run 35 miles a day (but of course you can…), but here are some suggestions:

  • If you don’t usually run, try to run or walk at least two miles a day (28 miles total)
  • If you already run regularly, try to run 5 miles a day (70 miles total)
  • If you’re a marathon/ultramarathoner, how about 10 miles a day (140 miles total)

Whatever you choose to do, just

  1. Drop a #verbal and commit to participating — setting goals and having group accountability really works!
  2. Post updates, share your progress, and let people know what you’re doing and why!
  3. Check in on how Pavel is doing 🙂

I’m looking forward to having as many running partners as I can when I set off on August 1st! 

Thanks so much to LLB for this great idea 🙂 

 

 

Field Testing

On Monday at about 5:00 pm, I took off for my first run with a full pack along the Monroe Skyline section of Vermont’s Long Trail. I followed the LT on a roughly 20-mile out-and-back section south from Appalachian Gap across some of the state’s highest peaks: Mount Ellen, Lincoln Peak, and Mount Abraham.

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The Aarn Marathon Magic 33-liter pack weighed about 23 lbs fully loaded. I’ll need to add a layer of clothing or two for Scandinavia, but otherwise, everything else was accounted for:

The pack is *very* adjustable and took a few miles to get right, but for most of the 20 miles, everything fit well, and even over the technical terrain, I was able to maintain a reasonable pace.

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For the first part of the afternoon, I affixed the solar panel to the back of the pack and was able to charge the tiny Go Pro camera at least a little. This will be much more effective in Scandinavia, where tree canopy will be largely absent. My plan is to charge the Recharger over the course of the day and recharge devices while I sleep — of course, the solar panel can do a fair bit of work overnight in the northern latitudes, too!

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I’ve been trying out different foods, and I think I’ll stick to familiar things for the main meals and supplement with Norwegian-purchased snacks for daytime. Water is plentiful along the Arctic Trail, so dehydrated food will be one of the most efficient calorie sources, and powdered drink mix will be a great electrolyte supplement.

With only a month to go before the run, my emotional scale is tipped more on the side of ‘anxious’ than ‘excited,’ but I still feel on track and ready for the last weeks of training and planning before we leave on July 16th.

Thanks again, as always, for the support of all kinds I’ve gotten from friends old and new. This couldn’t happen without you! 🙂

 

What do we love?

On my morning run today, knowing I might need some external motivation, I listened to last year’s interview with Sally McRae by Julia Hanlon on Julia’s Running on Om podcast. My tired legs may have yielded somewhat slower miles on that run, but Sally’s thoughtful reflections on her Western States 100 training led me onward through my 12 miles, and brought my thinking inward to reflect on this question: what do we love?

Some answers come easily.

    

Some do not.

The more I run, the more I seem to have conversations about things like passion and purpose, goals and direction.

Most recently, I told a friend that I wasn’t yet done becoming who I wanted to be. On reflection, what I think I really meant was, ‘I haven’t yet done all I can to be the best person I can be, and I want to take my time and enjoy the ride.’

We all follow very different paths, for sure, but for me it has often been a literal path — frequently uphill, nearly always layered with soil and lichen-covered stones, under a sky that is more often than not threatening rain.

What we all share, however, is that there is a path. And even when look ahead to see what’s next (I mean, of course we do!), it is the act of being on the path — and learning to acknowledge and love every step along the way — that is essential to keep us both rooted and moving forward. To quote a dog from a book that helped me through a particularly challenging moment in my life, “that which you manifest is before you.

When I ran in the 7.6-mile race up the Mount Washington Auto Road with some of our student-athletes, staff, and friends last weekend, I could not have been more proud to see my students come up the last 22% grade to the finish line — I could see them becoming more confident, becoming more self-assured, and becoming stronger with every. tired. step.

As I start the last hard training block for my Arctic Trail run, I have to keep my eyes steadfastly on today — on this run, this mile, this training session — while also planning for the 500-mile adventure I have ahead of me. Balancing those two — the moment and the thing-that-comes-next — is, for me, one of the hardest parts of training.

But it helps answer my question:

I believe we have to love the process of becoming — whatever path we choose to follow.

The Sterling Skyrunner extended family atop Mount Washington

progression

Dragon and I finished up a long training block yesterday with a run back and forth across the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains — earning a 1000 mile badge from Run the Year 2017 and racking up a classic 8-week progression.

 

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Never before have I cherished an upward trending graph so much. 🙂

This week will see something of a decrease in mileage and vertical feet in preparation for Saturday’s Mount Washington Road Race. I’ve completed this race 4 times before, and I’m cautiously optimistic about my training this time around. Now it’s mostly up to weather, wind, and hydration.

After that, it’s 4 weeks until wheels up to Scandinavia!

I celebrated my run with Dragon by making a little video 🙂

Still looking for ways to help support Climate Run?

There are three ways!!

  1. Head on over to Atayne’s Climate Run Store and buy an Arctic Trail shirt. $10 from each sale goes directly to support Climate Run.
  2. Buy a Climate Run Skida Hat! Choose from all sorts of colors and sizes. Use my PayPal donation page to make your purchase & I’ll be in touch about styles. $15 from each sale goes to support Climate Run!
  3. Donate directly through the Climate Run GoFundMe Page!

8 Weeks until the Arctic Trail Run & Matching Fundraiser!

On the morning of August 1st, I’m planning to head out from Sulitjelma, Norway on the Nordkalottruta, bound for the Swedish border and my first campsite midway between the two lakes, Vastenjaure and Akkajaure, approximately 40 miles beyond the start of the trail.

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Vastenjaure photo by Magnus / salgo1960

With only 8 weeks to go, I’m settled into a training routine of between 60 and 70 miles of running a week, with a few short races remaining on the schedule for June and July. Combine that with cross-training, logistic planning, and working out the kinks in my camping setup, and suddenly there’s a whole lot to do!!

I was very excited to receive a Live Your Dream grant from the American Alpine Club late last month, and, in these final weeks of planning and prep, I am hoping to match the $750 from the AAC to complete my fundraising in advance of the Arctic Trail Run.

How can you help?

There are three ways!!

  1. Head on over to Atayne’s Climate Run Store and buy an Arctic Trail shirt. $10 from each sale goes directly to support Climate Run.
  2. Buy a Climate Run Skida Hat! Choose from all sorts of colors and sizes. Use my PayPal donation page to make your purchase & I’ll be in touch about styles. $15 from each sale goes to support Climate Run!
  3. Donate directly through the Climate Run GoFundMe Page!

I am so grateful to those who have already supported Climate Run: Sterling College, The Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Skida, Atayne, The Catamount Trail Association, The Northwoods Stewardship Center, Protect Our Winters, The Craftsbury General Store, Adventure Scientists, and many other organizations and individuals.

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

We’ll Always Have Paris

When the Paris Climate Accord was first made public in late 2015, I wrote that some of my greatest hopes for the agreement were not necessarily in the non-binding limits to greenhouse gasses, but in the language describing the role of people — social systems, communities, traditional knowledge, and indigenous cultures.

You can read these two paragraphs below — but in the meantime, as the  President has decided to singlehandedly withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, it is increasingly important to make change on the local and regional level and commit to doing what we can as individuals, communities, educational institutions, businesses, and local governments.

As of today, 10 governors, 82 mayors, and many business leaders, colleges, and universities have joined together to continue to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”

We must take the lead to demonstrate that individual action can have a substantial and tangible impact, despite sweeping political pronouncements. There are many resources available to you:

Call your governor, mayor, or city council.

Talk with local businesses.

Make your voice heard.

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If you’re interested in reading more, the two sections I am most drawn to in the Paris Agreement are, one, Article 7, Paragraph 5:

Parties acknowledge that [climate] adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.

The second is Article 12:

Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.

Article 7 recommends a decision-making process vastly different from the one we are engaged in here in the U.S.: an inclusive, “participatory and fully transparent” process that acknowledges the complexities of climate issues and their roots in a combined system of social, economic, and ecological practice.

Article 12, in its entirely, is dedicated to a participatory education process and demonstrating the vital role played by individuals and the diverse communities affected by climate change–and not simply those largely responsible for it.