Featured in Wildheart Magazine issue 2
The crisp air fills my lungs as I make my way down the quiet trail. Catching the morning sun, my sleepy footsteps echo into the waking forest. As my legs and arms find their rhythm, my body seems to relax. Early fall weather has the leaves showing off their bright yellow vividness; they always seem to intensify after a night’s storm. The roots that lay across the path’s way will soon collect frost, but this morning’s sun has enough heat to fight off winter.
Deeper down the silent path, my mind starts to wander. I go in and out of dreaming about summer days. The more the trail seems to wake up, the more my mind becomes active. The past race season clouds over my reality as my body goes into autopilot down the Turnagain Arm Trail. I think about all the fantastic training my legs did while the mountains were still warm and welcoming. All the time spent on my feet for the pure pleasure of being outside makes my heart full. I dream of the crisp creeks I crossed and the technical ridges I climbed. I see the smiling hikers I passed every day, still hear their laughs and loud banter. My thoughts hop from one race experience to another but the best moments were the times I ran out the door for the heck of it. The summer days were good to me—I will savor this when my runs turn cold and dark.
I was not always this confident. Maybe finally taking the summer off from work to focus on getting outside, or scratching my race goals in early May had eased my usual anxieties. Or maybe the reason my mind is now at peace is the exact trail I run on.
However, even now, being on the path where my Anchorage trail running began wraps my thoughts up in the past. Not long ago, I was stuck inside all day; cave-dwelling made my life miserable and my attitude sour. The less time I spent outside, the more my heart broke and living with a broken heart made me mean. When I made life hard, these trails were nightmares. Adventuring used to be just for training purposes—getting outside had nothing to do with being happy. In fact, I was sacrificing my own happiness. The way I used to live was hurting my soul, making me less of the person I needed to be, less of a friend and more of an enemy. But as I run on, I am reminded by the withering fireweed that we can go through hard phases to bloom once again.
I can’t say that I’m proud of all my past experiences, but now when I look back I can quickly move forward, knowing our lives are in constant change. As are the trail’s twists and turns, like the rollercoaster that is life. The downhills are comfortable and put a smile on my face; the uphills remind my calves that life can be hard and slap my ego down. All my thoughts spew out into the air as running takes on its therapy form. Ideas of triumph intertwine with memories of being unsuccessful. Words like “sacrifice” and “failure,” which used to be the summer’s theme, play tricks on me. It gets so hard that sometimes I have to just walk for things to slow down and thoughts to be tranquil.
I am trying my best. I have to believe that the constant change is nothing to be afraid of, I remind myself that in life we get to fail, we get to succeed, and we are permitted to mess up. Our power lies in how we live our lives, how we overcome and push forward. We are both loud and lush like the summer and bare with darker days like the winter. Our authentic selves are what make us beautiful; we are charming as the changing of seasons. We get to show strength like the yellow leaves as we stay persistent, and like the rooted trail that gets covered with a blanket of these leaves, we are allowed to hide.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to do things—this journey is our own to have. The trail has many things that flourish and wilt at their own pace. We are like trees and vegetation, growing and falling at different rates. The path may lead to the same ending, but our stories of getting there are written differently depending on our mindset. We can paddle against the current or let life flow freely. We can easily beat ourselves up for getting things wrong, or remind ourselves we shouldn’t be so hard.
It’s okay to be exposed like the branches of fall. It’s okay to feel warm and happy like the summer days of our childhood. Our life is what we make it. Our changing of seasons doesn’t have to be grueling; we are the owners of our own happiness. Just like the trails: magical and relentless, vulnerable and ever-changing.
A lifelong Alaskan, Denali grew up climbing mountains and running on trails.