Tag Archives: vulnerability

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.

Always learning: lessons from students

I’ve had a couple of terrific experiences with students over the past few weeks– from teaching a two-week intensive class titled Resilience, Complexity, and Flow at Sterling College–to meeting with hundreds of students at Cannon School in Concord, NC last week.

Each of these gave me a chance to have some powerful and important conversations about what it means to be resilient, and how being vulnerable can be a way to become more powerful in the face of a changing climate and changing world.

My Sterling class ended with a conversation about perception and the precarity of balancing between self and place. We are always, the students seemed to agree, both within the world and at its margins–there isn’t really any terra firma on which to stand and assess the world, as we are bound to it, ever in flux.

This didn’t mean, for most students, that there was no meaningful path forward. In fact, the path ahead seems clearer–in a world already pushing (and even beyond) the limits of social and ecological capacity and sustainability, by better understanding the complexity our world and by embracing our own vulnerability can we begin to build a more resilient future.

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After my presentation to middle school students at Cannon School, I was peppered with so many questions that we ran out of time! The students were so excited by my experience of running across Iceland and seemed to be looking for ways to connect Climate Run to their own experience of the world, that I could have talked with them all day!

It struck me that this was exactly why I was doing this–not only to share my experiences of endurance running and of seeing the effects of climate change firsthand, but to continue the conversation and to share and learn more about ideas of resilience and vulnerability from everyone I talk with–whether that’s a group of a dozen college students, or a room of 75 outdoor enthusiasts at the Green Mountain Club, or several hundred middle schoolers in North Carolina.

What I learn from each of these encounters can be just as meaningful and powerful as enduring hour mile after mile of unforgiving Arctic terrain.

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Rainbow from the top of Kaldidalur Pass

on vulnerability

IMG_2364Dragon and I went over to Smuggler’s Notch this weekend to run a couple of laps over the closed Notch Road between Cambridge and Stowe. Somewhere during the second lap over the top, as we ran from the windswept southern side into the deeper snow on the north slope, I could feel spindrift seethe and swirl into a few shallow drifts of partly coherent ideas–why am I starting on this long road of training, fundraising, and advocacy? Who am I to think I could make some difference? Why am I doing this?

It’s often when I make myself most vulnerable to the weather and conditions and terrain that I’m able to look most deeply inward. This makes sense to me — as runners, we often lay ourselves bare against the world when we push our bodies to where reason forsakes us and emotion, raw and unkempt, draws us forward — up the mountain, into the night, down the road, through the rain, under the hot sun — always in an unrelenting cavalcade of challenge.

It’s probably natural to avoid vulnerability and to build systems that shield us from exposure. This, too, makes sense — I’ll put on a rain jacket if I’m running across an exposed ridge in the rain; I’ll bring a warm layer if I’m going out for a long winter run, or a headlamp if it’s late in the day.

Yet. 

Yet, it can be enticing to dance along the edge, put ourselves ‘out there,’ exposed, for our convictions, passions, and aspirations.

At the edge of vulnerability, incredible things can happen.

In my plan to run across Iceland next spring, to advocate for a resilient relationship to our world, and to involve as many others in the experience as possible, I admit, I feel more vulnerable, and more humble, than ever before.

Maybe what’s most humbling is the simple truth that I cannot do this alone, and it’s taken some time to recognize that. I might think I can sometimes — much of the hard work of training is by necessity a solitary affair, and the risk is largely my own. But without a community of peers, friends, family, students, and many people I have never even met, I wouldn’t have even dared dream this.

I thank you, and hope you’ll take the next steps with me.