For the past couple of years I've been chewing on this idea of running the Catamount Trail — a cross country ski trail that runs the length of Vermont from the Massachusetts border to Canada. A few months ago I watched the documentary about Nikki Kimball, an endurance runner who set the record as being the fastest woman to run the length of the Long Trail. She inspired me to finally take the idea of running the Catamount and put it into action. Nikki was going for a speed record. I will not. Nikki is a sponsored endurance runner. I am not. Nikki has a support team that runs with her, sets up camp, keeps her hydrated, and reminds her to keep going when she'd rather pack it in. They take care of her feet. Her sponsors cheer. Then there's me. No one knows I'm doing this. Well, you do, because I just told you. But no one else knows. I will be running alone. I do have supportive friends and family members, many of whom were quick to give me the thumbs up "like" on this project and some of whom expressed support with a generalized let me know how I can help kind of response. (P.S., for future reference, this is very nice, but not helpful. You'll see why in a minute.)
Skiing the entire length of the CT gets you bragging rights as an “end-to-ender.” I think the Catamount Trail Association sends you a mug or something. But as far as I know no one has ever achieved end-to-end status by running it. Or if they did they kept quiet because it's a ski trail which is (sssshhhhh) technically "not open" in the summer months. If I'm being honest, this is part of the appeal. Am I breaking any laws? Will I get in trouble? What kind of shape is the trail in during summer months? Neck-high nettles? Impassable swamps? Lots of question marks, but this is part of what drives the adventure. Onward. So begins the planning. I figure, as a quasi-responsible adult who works full time with a couple of part time jobs on the side, it will take me 3 summers to complete the task. I mapped it out to run the first 10 sections (there are 31 in all) this summer.
Exciting stuff back in March and April, but now, with my start date fast approaching, I find myself in a state of anxiety wholly of my own making. I am flailing about in a sea of questions: What am I doing? Why am I doing this? How the hell am I going to pull this off? It’s not just the actual running part — I’ve been sticking to the training schedule. Aside from giving in to my guilty pleasures of Vermont cheddar and Fiddlehead, I actually feel reasonably prepared for the physical demands. It’s all the other stuff. The logistics. The nitty gritty of figuring out how to get myself dropped off at start points and/or picked up at end points. How do I ask someone to give up a sizable chunk of their day and put all those miles on their car to be pit crew on this hare-brained adventure? All kinds of possibilities are presenting themselves to me as a way to avoid having to ask this of someone.
I could just run each section twice: I'd park at the start, run to the end of Section 1, turn around and run back to my car. Repeat with Section 2, etc. The fact that I’m seriously considering this as an option could be a strong indication that I’ve lost most of my marbles. The first section is 8 miles. So... math. That would be a 16 mile run. I’m not going for speed here. I’d be tired, but it’s doable. But that’s just Section 1. And the way I have this thing planned out right now, I’m trying to do the first 4 sections back to back 4 days in a row. That turns an 8 mile run into 16 on Day One, a 10 mile run into 20 on Day Two, a 7 mile run into 14 on Day Three, and an 8 mile run on Day Four into another 16 miler. More math... If I run the whole thing like this, I take a 300+ mile adventure and double it to over 600 miles. Hmmm.
Maybe I could just ask someone to help with shuttling cars.
Enter all the re-questioning about why the hell I’m doing this in the first place. Why do any of us do anything above and beyond survival? What’s it for? When it comes down to it, don’t we all just end up as dust or worm-food anyway? What does it matter what we toil away at all the live-long day? Why not just sit on the deck and enjoy Vermont cheddar and Fiddlehead? Bragging rights? No one cares. I mean of course they care. If they care about you then they care. But the world doesn’t care. The universe doesn’t care. All the shitty race and economic and political and climate problems are not going to get solved by me spending hours and hours and hours of my life running around in the woods trying not to get eaten by bears.
So not only am I not doing anything productive at all by embarking on this adventure, I’m asking people to give up their time to help me. They could be knitting hats for cancer patients if I hadn't asked them to spend the day in their car.
Except that I’m not asking. Because as it turns out, I can’t. I just can't bring myself to ask someone to do this for me when it has basically no purpose and serves no greater good and just feels, well, selfish. Even if I don't have to ask and help is just offered, saying yes to it is so. very. difficult. It generally does not feel good or even okay. Clearly I have issues. I suppose if I were donating a kidney, I could muster what’s needed to let someone drive me home after. But only because the favor of a ride home would be balanced out by having just donated an organ.
Nope. I’ll figure it out on my own. A slightly less crazy idea emerges: I have a bike. I could drive to the end point of my run and leave my car there, then ride my bike back to the start, run the section back to my car, drive back to the start and get my bike. This actually feels like a decent plan. It’d be like doing two-thirds of a triathlon. Cool. So now all I need to do is put air in the tires and make sure the gears work and I should probably get myself a bike lock and maybe see if I can find someone to loan me a bike rack. Oh and I guess I better get myself a helmet.
When things get hard, my patterned response is to work harder. Nothing wrong with that. It has served me rather well. I can get quite a bit done in 24 hours. I’ve developed a pretty kick ass work ethic along with some fierce independence and self-reliance. Oh, and also a crippling inability to delegate responsibility or lean on others. Or ask for help. Oh for the love of Pete. I have gone full circle and again, I remind myself that this entire thing is of my making. I hatched the plan. I have created this situation. Why? Why manufacture this summons to contest? Isn't life hard enough? Why do we humans so desperately need to challenge ourselves?
I am reminded of something I knew all along, but maybe forgot for a minute: I do it because I can. I am privileged to have two working legs, two working lungs, and just enough stability and security in my life to pause from the daily whatevers and go after this thing. We seek out challenges because there is great value in it. Sticking it out helps us evolve. It is empowering. Challenging ourselves keeps alive our fiery passions and fuels our creativity. Going for broke and breaking through boundaries is good for us and inspiring to others. New experiences keep us interesting and interested in the world. Getting through the hard stuff helps us figure out what we’re made of and helps us build resilience. It makes us a little better able to handle the unexpected spray of shit that will inevitably fly off the fan of life. When we struggle, it builds compassion and empathy. In a word, it makes us better. And the world really needs each of us to be the very best versions of ourselves.
So on that note, does anyone have a bike rack I can borrow?