Anatomy Of An Escape – A Search For Oxygen
“Everything that’s broke – leave it to the breeze”
– James Bay.
“The mountains are calling and I must go”. As I was breathing so heavily people could actually hear me coming from meters away, these words from John Muir were all I could think about.
The weather was miserable. I couldn’t see 10 metres ahead. I had run out of water a long time ago and was trying desperately to be strong enough to not eat the last biscuit of a pack of three I had shoved in my back pocket at the very last minute. I don’t know what I was thinking. Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking that the mountains were calling and I just had to go. Everything else – the absence of any fell running in a year, the fact that I did not even have a pack in which to put any water or food, no tape to protect my feet from blistering, not even two matching socks – everything else was secondary.
I had driven up to Wales two days before, unexpectedly, in a desperate attempt to get myself back on tracks. I had a week off, the first one in 18 months. I woke up, got myself to the airport, rented a car on the spot and drove away. I just needed out. Out of everything. Out of this place, out of the same thoughts, out of everything. I was desperate for oxygen.
I get lost often, I loose sight of the bigger picture every now and then, I get my priorities wrong more frequently than I should. I make mistakes. I spectacularly fuck up. But I find my way home. The lighthouse is always standing in the exact same spot and eventually, I always get myself home. The great outsides, the trails, the mountains, running, silence, loneliness, books – that’s how I self medicate. It always gets me home.
I rode horses at sunset in a place so beautiful and wild that I felt like I could not even process what I was seeing. I felt like I was breathing for the first time in weeks. I walked alone. Sometimes talking to myself, sometimes in pure silence. I drove hundreds of miles across a country which beauty never ceases to astonish me. I met up with true friends. In the electric storm that had triggered my great escape, the lighthouse was lighting the same old path. And I was getting myself home.
On the third day I woke up with one obsession in mind: running Snowdon. The first mountain I ever ran up. The playground, the beginning of any mountain running I ended up doing. The final destination of many subsequent little escapes spread throughout the final years of vet school. I was back there, on the trail I know like the back of my hand. As Jenn Shelton so rightly put it “Comebacks are not sexy”. That’s an understatement – comebacks are ugly as. They make you feel like you you’ve never run before. They make you aware of gravity at a whole new level, make you reminisce about the past, about that long gone fitness. I had nothing. Not even a back pack. A pair of shorts, a jacket, three miserable biscuits and a bottle of water. And I was off. But I was there and it’s all that mattered. I did not have the shadow of a doubt I’d see the top of Snowdon that day. It was a necessity.
People often ask me what I think about when I run. I don’t know. About everything and nothing at all. I seek answers, but never consciously. I don’t dissect a problem in my mind while running. I just get home and somehow have gained a different perspective.
I’ve run countless ultras, I’ve run a marathon on a tibial stress fracture, I’ve run up mountains in so much discomfort that I was actually crying while doing so. Yet I felt like nothing compared to the pain I had been feeling lately.
I still feel it, the occasional burn behind my rib cage. My heart still sinks every now and then. I am still haunted by questions I’ll never get the answers to. But I am letting go, I am moving on. I did get to the top of Snowdon. I couldn’t see a thing yet I still got all the perspective I needed.
One night, as I was laying in bed in Wales thinking about it all, I got a text from a friend who is getting at the end of her specialty training and is about to make some big changes too: “We have some pretty amazing adventures to start from here. I am excited.”
When did I ever stop being excited? When did I forget about all this? When did I become so miserable and blind? It was all a matter of timing. What this random text did for me, possibly in the context of my great escape is hard to put in words. It helped me get home, it was the final push to the summit.
Maybe I’ll feel the burn for a while, maybe I’ll still search for some answers at night. But the dust is settling. And I can breathe again. And I too, am excited about the future.