My wild Alaska life

Most of the time my life is pretty boring. I sit in a chair in front of my desk and try to write. Sometimes words come out, sometimes not. Every so often I pause to get something to eat or check email or mess around on Twitter or read a few chapters from this book or that.

But almost every day I also do this: I run. And this small act of moving one foot in front of the other transforms and shapes my life as much, if not more, than the serious act of writing.

Rabbit Lake Trail, on a sunny day.

I don’t run over pavement, or at least not often. Mostly, I run trails. I run muddy and rutted and hilly trails littered with tree branches and bear scat, and I often do this alone, and sometimes I’ll pass no one for five or ten miles, or even the whole way.

I run as minimally as possible, with a hydration pack, a protein bar or Gu and my cell phone. If it’s cold, I’ll tie a long-sleeve tech shirt around my waist, though more often than not I’ll stop and hide it along the way, to rid myself of the extra bulk.

I love the feeling of being out in the woods and mountains, of hearing nothing but the wind and the sound of my feet hitting the ground. I love technical trails with iffy footing, mud and steep and impossibly long hills. Mostly I love how my body moves as I jump over rocks and struggle up mountain inclines.

Lost Lake, Seward, mid-summer

I feel wild when I run. I think I’m the happiest than I can possibly be: free and unencumbered and strong. What I treasure most is when I bonk. For those of you who don’t run, bonking is when you reach your limit, when you run out of steam, when everything in your body screams for you to stop. It’s an unpleasant and inevitable sensation, if you run long and far enough. Yet I secretly love it, not the actual feel of the bonk but what happens if I ignore it and keep on going. If I accept the pain, claim it as my own, love and nurture it, it will soon become bearable, and I’ll enter a place that’s almost indescribable, a place beyond ego and want and need, where I become more raw, more vulnerable yet also more strong and confident and alive than I’ve ever been.

Middle Fork, one of my favorite, favorite trails.

It’s why I run. And more and more I worry that while I love to write, running is my true love. It is my passion. Writing is also my passion but face it, writing offers little short-term rewards. It’s tedious. And lonely. And there isn’t much way of gauging progress: Is this chapter stronger? (Maybe, and maybe not.) Is this character more fully developed than in the last draft? (Maybe, and maybe not.) Does this beginning offer a strong enough hook? (Damned if I know.)

Running, on the other hand, offers more immediate rewards. There’s the runner’s high, which usually visits me around mile six or eight, and there’s also easy means of tracking progress by how far I’ve gone, how fast, how many feet in elevation I’ve tackled, how tired or recovered I feel the next day, etc.

Now that it’s spring, I’ve been devoting more and more energy to running, energy which I often feel guilty about since part of me believes that I should reserve it for my writing. I’m training for a 50-mile race at the end of the summer. It’s a huge time commitment, and energy suck. And sometimes I think to myself: Cinthia, you don’t need to run a 50 mile race. And it’s true: I don’t. Yet I want to. I want that challenge, that struggle, that mix of pain and euphoria. I want to push my limits, feel myself crumble and then rise back up again.

black bear trail
Black Bear Trail, another one of my favorites.

Maybe by running a long race (and 50 miles is a hell of a long way), something will open inside of me and I’ll be a better and more honest writer. Maybe I’ll end up writing a memoir on running and it will all be worth it, and my life will suddenly make sense (fat chance, eh?).

Moose along Turnagain Arm Trail last week.
Bear with an attitude that followed me on the Potter Trail last week.

What I don’t understand, though, is why writing scares me so much while trail running doesn’t. Oh, I often feel apprehensive before setting out on a long run but rarely scared. And yet there is real danger: I’ve been charged by moose and bear, rattled at by rattlesnakes, seen wolves and once, a lynx. But nothing, not even the prospect of running a 50 mile race through the Alaska mountains, scares me as much as the small act of sitting down at my desk and writing.

The Dome, during the long summer twilight.


11 thoughts on “My wild Alaska life

  1. I love this. And I would absolutely read your memoir about running. This made me want to go run on a trail. And I love it–um–somewhat less than you do. 🙂


  2. I know exactly what you’re talking about in terms of writing vs [something else fulfilling]. For me it’s making music, and these days the pure enjoyment winner is music. Writing is a wired-in calling, and there’s no way I can ever stop doing it. Music is, for me, what running is for you.

    But where you run is amazing. Being alone in those settings is fricking existential!


  3. Thanks, Kevin. It is fricking existential, truly, though not so much in the winter, lol. Keep on playing music, okay? We need these things to nourish us during our long and lonely writing plights. Cheers and happy, happy.


  4. That raw place is what I love about long trail distances. It never happens to me like that on the road. Which 50 are you running? and can I come too?!


    1. Karen! I’m running the Resurrection Pass Ultra, on Aug. 7. You should come up and run it too. Truly! The cool thing is that there is no entry fee. It’s very low-key and there’s only one aid station–basically a nice jaunt through awesome areas. Have to purify your own water, carry your own stuff. Really DIY, no? I’ll probably come in last (only about 30 people run it) but my goal is to finish, that’s all, just to finish. I mean 50 miles–how wild is that?


  5. I love your descriptions of feeling wild and free and strong. Makes me miss my old running life! Have to smile at the bear photo though. You’re the one with the attitude. You actually took a photo of that bear!


    1. Ha, ha, Carol, I was pretty far away and used the zoom lens on my cheapo digital camera (believe it or not, I don’t have a smartphone, probably the only person in the whole world). Hope you’re having a great spring, and writing like crazy. Thanks for visiting my blog, and take care.


  6. I wish I did (could) run, but between a gimp leg and low stamina, I walk instead. (The best “running” I ever did was for 20 minutes on a treadmill.) But I love walking and if I lived in Alaska, I’d be out walking as much as possible. Gee, maybe being charged by moose and bear would help me run better 😉
    Writing is something you’ll always do and will always be able to do. Running is something you need to enjoy now while you can. My husband used to run regularly but his knees finally gave out. Now he runs “like a little old man” (his words) and alternates with walking to spare his knees. He’s adapted well (he also cycles for cardio blasts), but he does miss the days when he could just run.


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