Not a soul knows where I am right now. There’s a certain beauty in that.
I’ve always loved stories of man going into nature. Thoreau, Chris McCandless, Cheryl Strayed – heck, you can even add Jesus to that list. I love reading why these people choose such a drastic mode of retreat, what happens during it, and inevitably, how they change in ways unexpected. When I look at these stories from a rational point of view, I can always understand the why, but I’ve never been able to empathize with them.
Today, I do.
It happened accidentally, really. I was planning to go on a short hike just to be outside for a bit and then get cozy with some schoolwork. Well, soon enough, that short hike became more than a wee bit longer and school was tossed into the warm wind. I hadn’t realized it when I began my day, but I needed this. A break from the world. Here, stretched out on a rock like a lizard, basking in the sun and listening to the rushing river – here is where I stumbled onto my retreat.
A few days ago, I was thinking about how my identity as a runner has been intertwined with the rest of my identity for years. I love that, and assuming my body cooperates, I hope it’ll be like this for decades to come. But unfortunately, injury is an inevitable part of the athlete’s deck. Which isn’t the end of the world by any means, but when that part of you is integral to who you are, it makes those periods a bit tougher. You’ve not only lost your favorite way to exercise – no, that’s the easiest part to handle. You also lose your best method to cope, your favorite way to explore the world, the most peaceful way to think, your most valued mode of escape, and so much more.
It’s been tough being sidelined these past few weeks. Tougher than I’ve let on to anyone. But, in its own way, this time off helped me to create another lens through which to view the world.
Hang with me here for a bit of an extended metaphor. If we personify the way that I want to see the world as a Thoroughbred, running used to be the equivalent of me hopping onto its back with one fluid, graceful, Legolas-like movement. That’s not an option right now. I’m on the ground, and Secretariat is standing before me, beautiful, majestic, and currently unattainable.
When you fall off the horse, you’re faced with a few options. Quitters walk away. Extremists (or stubborn people) hop back on again the exact same way, even if they know they’re going to fall right back off. Neither one of these quite appeal to me. I’m going to find a different way to get back on him, whether that means scaling a tree and jumping on from above, climbing a fence first, or something else entirely.
This retreat, this unintended bliss where I’m in a tank top and regretting that I left my sunglasses in the car – today, this is me getting on that horse a different way. It may not be my preferred method of mounting, but it’s beautiful in its own way and helps me get to where I want to be. Who I want to be.
I have no desire to go explore the Alaskan wilderness, the Pacific Crest Trail, or live in the woods for a few years, but today, I can see why someone might. It’s a gift to get away into nature. To be away from everything and everyone. To bask in the sun’s rays. To go off the path for no reason other than because it looks intriguing. To simply be.
Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” We go away so that we can look within. Only after doing so are we able to harness our inner strength. And at the end of the day, that strength is going to ensure that if we want it badly enough and if it truly matters to us, we’re not only going to get on that horse, we’re going to gallop across the finish line of the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. All it takes is that strength, determination, and a little bit of nature.