Category Archives: learning

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

 

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

Reindeer and Climate Change

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During my run north along the Arctic Trail in August, I will pass through substantial sections of Norway, Sweden, and Finland en route to Kautokeino from Sulitjelma.

The trail’s 500 miles, which traverses much ofSápmi, the homeland of the Sami, can be divided according to countries, border crossings, biomes, topography, habitations, and, maybe most interesting, by reindeer herding districts. The route I’m following passes through 25 separate named herding districts, each of which supports the structure of a complex and dynamic cultural/ecological Sami tradition of herding semi-domesticated reindeer.

As I’ve been tracing the Arctic Trail on its route through much of  the different districts in Norway, Sweden, and Finland (the full list is at the end of this post), I have been falling in love with the names — the language delineating placenames, relationships, and a complex system of ecologies, cultural customs, tradition, regulation, and contemporary political boundaries.

The principal goals of the multi-year Climate Run project are to

(1) bear witness to changing ecologies and cultures in the face of a rapidly changing climate

(2) cultivate conversation and build community around climate resilience

(3) change the narrative about climate change from one of resistance to one of resilience.

One way that I plan to engage in these conversations is by understanding the impact of climate change on reindeer herds across Sápmi as well as Sami adaptations to traditional practices made necessary by ecological change. Reindeer herding has been and continues to be an essential component of Sami identity, economy, and cultural tradition. By some accounts, up to 40% of all of Norway’s land is open to reindeer herding, and there are an estimated 700,000 reindeer across three northern Scandinavian countries. With a Sami population of just over 58,000, that’s more than 10 reindeer per individual!

Sami herders have already noticed significant changes in foraging patterns and the predictability of seasonal changes, which has led to an actual decrease in individual reindeer size — for example an average 12% weight loss over the past 16 years among reindeer in Svalbard.

Heikki Hirvasvuopio describes the problem on the mainland this way:

During autumn times, the weather fluctuates so much, there is rain and mild weather.This ruins the lichen access for the reindeer. In some years this has caused massive loss of reindeers. It is very simple – when the bottom layer freezes, reindeer cannot access the lichen. This is extremely different from the previous years. This is one of the reasons why there is less lichen. The reindeer has to claw to force the lichen out and the whole plant comes complete with roots. It takes . . . extremely long for a lichen to regenerate when you remove the roots of the lichen.

As we move into a political era of renewed climate change skepticism, and, as of this writing, the U.S.’s continuing role in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement is doubtful, it’s ever more important to demonstrate the real tangible impacts of a changing climate on not only global systems but on something as simple — yet devastating — as a reindeer’s ability to reach its food source — and the far-reaching impact this regional issue can have.

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Here’s a listing of the twenty-five herding districts along the Arctic Trail, listed from South to North through Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

Sjonkfjell
Svaipa
Semisjaur-Njarg
Luokta Måvas
Tuorpon
Hellemo
Frostisen
Skjomen
Sirkas
Sörkaitum
Baste
Girjas
Laevaas
Gabna
Altevatn
Dividalen
Tamok/Rosta
Talma
Saarivuoma
Lainiovuoma
Könkämä
Käsivarsi
Cohkolat ja Biertavárri
Fávrrosorda
Guovdageainnu cakcaorohat

Goals

One of the season’s first forays onto dry trails at Cady Hill, Stowe, Vermont


With the transition from the spring to summer semesters here at Sterling College, the trails have dried out, the sun rises earlier, and it’s been easier to find a few more hours in the week to focus on training. The Sterling running team has started 5:00 am summer practices three times each week, which has helped add more miles and more hill workouts into my weekly regimen.

Some students are starting out and running trails for the first time, some training for the upcoming Mount Washington Road Race, and some have longer term goals. Each person’s goals are unique, of course — from running a mile to completing a race to running across a small (or medium-sized!) country — the actual goal doesn’t matter.

What matters more is that we find meaning and intention in the goals we do build, and keep close those whose strength can help support us. A good friend recently asked me how I could find such focus on resilience and hope. So much so that my vehicle for doing so — running — has become a central part of my life — and the processes of training, planning, organizing, mentoring, and sharing stories of both adventure and climate.

When I leave for Norway in mid-July, I know that I’ll have the support of family, friends — so many new friends who have helped to support this work. I’m looking forward to meeting with new friends along the Arctic Trail and during stops in Svalbard, Tromsø, Bodø, Kautokeino, and elsewhere.

My goal, huge as it may seem, is at its heart really simple: I am just trying to figure out the best way that I can contribute to building meaningful communities and having thoughtful conversations.

And running has become a way for me to do just that.

From a recent training run on Mount Elmore, Vermont

The Intensity of Experience

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Running the last stretch to Cadillac Mountain’s summit

We’ve all been there — a few extra moments to linger on a mountaintop, taking the long way home, waiting for the sunset, or staying one more night before heading home from an adventure.

It can be hard to admit when our cherished, blissful, and sometimes profound and life changing moments end and it’s time to let go and move on to the next thing. But they never really leave us, of course; our memories of places, people, the colors of the sky, the taste of salt in the ocean, the feel of wind against your skin, the sounds of songbirds — the places not only all persist within us, but they grow like the first green shoots of trout lily and trillium spear through the matted layers of last year’s leaves — blossoming radiantly precisely when they’re ready and needed.

This past weekend, a contingent of Sterling’s Skyrunners and I made the 6-hour trek to visit our friends at the College of the Atlantic on Mount Desert Island. We all made new friends and spent hours together running up and down granite outcroppings, ledges, and summit with names like Conner’s Nubble, South Bubble, Huguenot Head, Champlain, and Cadillac.

And of course, we ran across Sand Beach together 🙂

Sometimes it seems as if leaving something so profound only to return to our quotidian routine is to somehow slough off the very things we sought in the first place. We are nothing if not made up of these moments, but they grow stronger still if we share them — share the stories of our summits, scrambles over rocky ledges, and (really, really quick) swims in a cold northern sea.

If adventure is a way to meet the world head-on and see how we become permeable to the vast complexity of the nonhuman — then giving voice to those adventures, however small or grand they may be, is a way to build communities of compassionate, reflective, and engaged individuals who understand that there is only this one world we share, and every day we share the adventure of living here, together.

 

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The COA Black Fly Runners and Sterling Skyrunners on Sand Beach, Acadia NP

 

Ecology and Teaching at SXSW!!

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I’m looking forward to setting off for Austin, Texas on Sunday for a week of SXSWedu talks, meetings, and conversation….not to mention the predicted 75-degree temps!

I’ll be giving one of the Future 20 talks at 11:30 on Thursday, March 9th about Ecology as a Model for Teaching.

Here’s the presentation description:

Grounded in a pedagogy of interdependence, collaboration and co-evolution, this talk will outline essential methods and tools necessary to integrate ecological systems thinking into curricular and instructional design. Building curricula based on ecological models helps to focus on organic, open and engaged learning experiences that coalesce around learning outcomes, around ‘real-world’ ecological challenges and around learner-centered approaches — where the boundaries between student, teacher and the world all blur and begin to evolve into a new paradigm of an intentionally engaged ecology.

If you’re in the area, stop on by!

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Hold fast your hope

For our second class meeting in Sterling’s introductory A Sense of Place course, we read the introduction to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, in which she writes:

The thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.

Can we pull it off? All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

Her book, published only 3 years ago, presents a dire outlook for the global climate, but also an audacious hope that *this* could be the catalyst for global cooperation, collaboration, and community building that would build the foundation for a resilient future for both humankind and the environment.

When we read her words in 2017, however, it is a lot easier to feel that hope slipping away, and the potential for disastrous effects on the global ecosystem seems inevitable.

It is even more important, today, for us to build strong and resilient communities — through conversations, collaboration, and open transparent communication. We need to recognize that everything has indeed changed. This work is not easy, and the results are not quickly forthcoming, but it is essential.

As Klein writes,”a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

Time to get moving.

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Goals vs. Expectations

I had planned a long run for yesterday, January 1, to start off the New Year — and the Climate Run 500-mile Challenge — on strong footing. Of the 14 or so miles I had planned, I finished just over 6, mostly because despite how stunningly beautiful the alpine scenery along New Hampshire’s Franconia Ridge, the 60 mph wind and 10°F temps added up to a bitter windchill through which I had no intention of running 3 miles of exposed ridgeline.

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Instead, I retreated down the trail to the relative security of the stunted spruce trees on the steep western slope of the ridge and reassessed.

I could keep with my plan and cross the ridge — not particularly wise or safe.

I could go the other direction through deep untracked snow — tried that. Neither fun nor really feasible given my running attire.

I could go back down and run along the snowmobile trail by the road — not really appealing.

Instead, I opted to run back down the Falling Waters Trail to the trailhead and I realized, doing the math as I ducked under branches and around the tight copses of spruce and birch along the trail’s steep upper pitches, that I’d already had a long run/nordic ski day of more than 17 miles only two days before. And the lack of a rest day (unless you count a November Project workout as ‘rest’). And the total week’s run/ski mileage of 53 miles was 20 miles more than the week before.

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I’d started the morning thinking, ‘Sunday…must be a Long Run,’ never really taking stock or reflecting on the depth or the rich variety of my entire week. It was a vacation week for the whole family, and that made the training schedule a lot more flexible — and full of skiing, running, mountains, gym time, and group workouts woven into the fabric of family and celebration.

It was no wonder I was feeling a little tired heading up my New Year’s Day mountain run!

Long term goals structure my year in broad strokes — to run the 500-mile Arctic Trail in August, to run 2017 miles in 2017, to PR a pair of ultramarathons this spring, to train with my Sterling team, and to work with the new Climate Run Team doing the 500-mile challenge.

Sometimes, though, reaching those goals can blind me to what I’m doing day to day. Of course, I keep track of all my workouts and share them on Strava, but occasionally I need (as I think we all need) some perspective.

Climbing a mountain is a great way to find some.

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Climate Run 500-Mile Challenge!

With just over 7 months until the start of the Arctic Trail Run, I want to share the fun of training with everyone else!

I’m also feeling more than a little inspired from yesterday morning’s November Project workout in downtown Boston — training is starting to ramp up, with increasing Sunday long run mileage, scheduled cross training, and some run/ski doubles mid-week — and I want to invite you to join me!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like fitness…

So, I’m inviting you to join the Climate Run Team! Starting on January 1st, 2017, I challenge you to run, walk, or ski 500 miles by August 16th as a way to get moving, get in touch with the world around us, and learn about how we impact the environment, climate, and help build a resilient self and resilient community.

500 miles?!?!

Yep! That comes to about 2.2 miles a day — or about 15 miles each week. See? No problem!

Where do I sign up?

On the Climate Run 500-mile Challenge Facebook Group. Go ahead and join, introduce yourself, make your intention clear and get going 🙂

Do I have to run?

Nope! Human powered activities like walking and nordic / uphill skiing work just fine. The more you can do on trails, the better!

How do I  record my miles?

First, you can record them on your own. I love using my Believe Training Journal to help me get a handle on my progress, and the prompts are really great.

Second, join the Climate Run Strava Group to record your miles and see how everyone else is doing.

Post goals, pictures, and inspirations on Climate Run Facebook Page to share your accomplishments!

Is that it? What else do I do? 

The mission of Climate Run is to engage bodily movement as a way to build resilience in the face of a changing climate. 

What does this mean? It means that by participating, you commit to learning about the impacts of climate change and sharing what you learn — both through your physical engagement with the world as you move toward your 500-mile goal — *and*  through what you read, see, and learn about the climate.

Why August 16th, 2017?

That’s the day I plan to reach the end of the Arctic Trail in Kautekeino, Norway, having run the 500 miles from Sulitjelma.

Will it cost anything?

Nope! Just a little time and dedication. Of course, if you choose to support the Climate Run project, that’d be awesome. And, in a few short weeks, there’ll be all kinds of great stuff you could get to show your support — including 100% recycled shirts from Atayne & Vermont-made hats from Skida.

Any other rules?

Not really. Just that your walk / run / ski is intentional and not just incidental as part of your everyday routine. Can you bike? Of course! I love biking. But those miles don’t count as part of your 500. Just walking, running, and skiing.

I’m super excited to share the training and goal-setting with as many people as possible! The more people who are involved in this project, the more we can change the story of climates, communities, and

Also, in a self-serving way, having partners helps me to stay focused and motivated on this long, long-term goal!

More soon!

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