Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New Chapter, New Routine

One of these times, she's going to hurt herself with these antics. In her unbridled excitement, she's going to forget to look ahead in between joyful barks and bounces in my direction. An oversize root, a misplaced rock, a snake – something – is not going to get out of her way.

I'm referring, of course, to Dorri, my parents' three-year old golden retriever, who served as my regular trail running companion during the nine months which I spent living back home in Amherst, Mass. It was a triply beneficial partnership: we both got the exercise and woods time we craved while my mom and dad were relieved of the stir-crazy, attention-hogging young golden she had too often resembled, instead coming home to find a dog mellowed by the exertion of charging through the hills of the Holyoke Range. Of course, our adventures would hardly have seemed routine based on the boundless delight she exuded at the start of each.

A week ago, however, Dorri and I took our last run up Rattlesnake Knob for a while, at least until I return home from Colorado for a few frantic days in August and prepare for my autumnal relocation to Madison, Wis. I almost offered to bring her along on my current adventure, but the truth is that I'm going to need some time alone during this journey, time without a 60-pound bundle of straw-colored vitality bouncing toward my face.

On top of Grays Peak with some old Ranger-types.
The trip is off to a fast start, to say the least. After stops in Ann Arbor, Mich. and Kansas City, the Silver Bullet and I pulled into Denver on Monday evening, just in time to help lay the cement down for the lower floor of my brother and sister-in-law's new house. Two hours later, I was zigzagging the little hatchback up the ruts and rocks of a Summit County backroad, headed for a late-night rendezvous with some old friends from my Ranger days at Philmont Scout Ranch. Yesterday, three days after waking up at sea level in Boston, I was fending off altitude sickness as we climbed Grays and Torreys Peaks, topping out at 14,270 feet of elevation. Not a bad way to start a vacation.

Yet as I enjoy my recovery day, I'm thinking not of friends or 14ers, but of trail runs with Dorri and the importance of routines. My life will be intentionally unfettered for the next month – and perhaps much longer, depending on the progress of the Great Madison Job Hunt. One of my primary goals for this chapter is to bring writing to the forefront, to make space for it on my list of crucial routines.

In the fall of 2011, I found myself starved for exercise as I began my first job out of college at an Outdoor Education Center in Texas. For the first extended period of my life, I was not playing an organized sport, and while I did plenty of walking in my new job and occasionally talked co-workers into a game of ultimate frisbee, the routine of strenuous aerobic activity was gone without a team's structure. I had battled for years with running on my own, never reaching the point where the question turned from if I was going to run that week to when. But as I felt my love handles growing flabbier in the East Texas heat, I finally got past the initial disruption which accompanies any change in personal habits. I started running a few miles around the adjacent neighborhood two, three, sometimes four times a week. Come April, I had completed my first half marathon. The routine was established and its strength gave me the same confidence as my legs'.

When I returned to Amherst last fall for my new job in sports information, I kept running, but gone was the regular exposure to nature my work in Texas had afforded. Between publishing game programs, writing press releases, and staffing 27 teams' worth of events, there was no time for hiking or rock climbing. I was lucky if I got out for a 20-minute walk to admire the beaver pond and the oak woods behind my parents' house. Through trail running with Dorri, however, I started killing two birds with one stone. While one's appreciation for a wild area's minutiae is inversely proportional to the speed at which one moves through it, running along the ridges and creek beds of my ancient hometown hills was a much-needed break from the high-strung personalities and landscaped fields of collegiate athletics. I had added a new layer to the routine of running, and it had become all the more rewarding.

So now it's time to bring to my writing that same discipline that got me off my butt and onto the trail. As I wind my way through the undetermined months ahead, with professional possibilities ranging everywhere from another full-time job in communications to substitute teaching and freelancing, I intend to pursue my personal written work with new vigilance. The results of those efforts may often appear here, and I am grateful already for all of your continued reading and support.

At this point, you'd be right to wonder just what I'll be writing about. I wish I knew too. There will probably be a few rants about sports and climate change as the baseball and wildfire seasons move on and I fend off the hypocrite's guilt of someone who hates fossil fuels but loves roadtrips and the bright lights of a summer night ballpark. There may be a crappy poem or two. There will certainly be stories and snapshots from the many adventures, outdoor and otherwise, which await.

And on that note, I'll take you back to Saturday, when this current western jaunt of mine began. After a proper Friday night sendoff with friends in Boston, the next evening found the Bullet and me crossing southern Ontario at 120 km/hr, windows halfway down as rushing air accompanied a Neil Young serenade (one of my favorite roadtrip traditions is listening to music from or about an area as I drive through it). Once we escaped the sprawl of the Niagara-to-Toronto corridor, rural beauty enveloped us as farms, rivers, and forest stretched to the north and south, a long and golden sunset dead ahead. As Neil sung of his Ontario roots in “Helpless,” I felt the pull of those rivers, the longing to follow them north until the oaks and maples hugging their banks gave way to a wall of conifers and the towns grew smaller and fewer.

This was my first trip across the province in several years. Barring long waits at the borders, it's a quicker route between home in Amherst and my brother in Ann Arbor than following I-90 around the bulge of Lake Erie. After one particularly brutal backup on the Blue Water Bridge into Michigan, however, I had opted for the American side during recent trips. Recalling the scenic calm of those provincial highway stretches, however, not to mention an unexpectedly good sandwich at Tim Horton's, I'd say the crossing is almost worth going out of one's way for.

Perhaps I can find a metaphor for writing in the allure of Canada. It starts with the monotony of the familiar, the tendency of schedules and sluggishness to prevent us from venturing into new places both mentally and physically. Yet Canada is there for the exploring, with vast tracts of wilderness to which we have no equal in the lower 48. If the mental barrier of unfamiliarity can be overcome, the potential for greater and more frequent writing is just as attainable.

If I am venturing into the Canada of my writer's path, then, I do so knowing that a few well-chosen routines must still accompany me. I will keep pulling on my running shoes, keep finding time for the wild, and will try to keep the words flowing like rivers in between.

Of course, if this new routine gets too, well, routine – if the threshold of boredom is approaching, it'll be time to adjust and rethink my critical habits. Alaska, anyone?