Mission Accomplished: Inspiration on the Bridger Ridge

I just found the tiny paper wrapping from a gelato cone that I had shoved in the pocket of my jeans two Mondays ago; a withered, washed figment of its previous self, but still legible enough that I can distinguish that this was, in fact the last 2.50 euro cone I enjoyed before hopping a plane to Frankfurt – two scoops of blackberry.

So much has happened in past 14 days (not to include the laundering of this particular pair of jeans;) I have eaten 6 gelato cones, traveled across two continents and ten airports, eaten my weight in granola and almond butter and have noshed on the same chocolate bar five times – each time with a different language on the wrapping. I have disassembled and rebuilt my bike four times, and had six 4:00am wake up calls. I raced just over 185 miles in the span of these two weeks, and have broken down (and built up again) personal goals so numerous that even now as I am trying to recount the experience of their accumulation I’m not sure how many there are. But, as I unpack my suitcases in earnest, I am sure that they will take shape.

The sheer experience of finding myself at three starting lines in this short time frame has been and exhilarating challenge in and of itself, not to mention attempting to push ones’ self to the absolute limit in each instance. It is an experience worth sharing in anyway I can, even if the existential, emotional, physical, or other rewards are still choosing the words they want to represent them. It’s also worth noting that no one “recommends” this type of overdose of adrenaline – when I mentioned to my coach back in June that I wanted to race for TeamUSA at the ITU Long Course World Championships in Spain, set a personal record for a half-Ironman in Boulder, and run a grueling 20-mile trail race at altitude with my husband in three consecutive weekends, he chuckled a bit without positive suggestion. There was no space for him to dissuade me – invitations such as these really only come along so often in life. And, it is my experience that the more of these extraordinary invitations to explore boundaries inside/outside self one chooses to accept, the more invitations we receive. Like the wildest magazine subscription.

I knew it was a little bit insane. And less insane, but more silly or overzealous – someone, maybe even me, assumed that I’d end up injured, over trained, or worse — burnt out. Surprisingly, neither my spirit, nor my body broke along the way – we continued to bend, welcoming each of these very different experiences in. I am unscathed; no blisters, no broken bones, and certainly no broken spirit or dearth of enthusiasm and, just now, as I sit down to write about what this crazy rush was all about do I have legs sore enough that I don’t feel so much like running in the morning. I welcome their ache for they met each line I toed with strength, willingness, and the most graceful virility. A whole new understanding of my own limits has grown within me – I have entirely more endurance than I ever imagined. And that wasn’t the only lesson; while in Spain, the well from which I draw as an athlete revealed itself to be much deeper than I anticipated, containing both resolve and sheer power. Once in Boulder, I sank the bucket deeper than I had before (and with a more incisive aim) and drew with all that I had in that moment, still sensing from that deep place within that something more -more power, speed, will- lie beneath the surface. So by the time we were standing in the chilly morning air at Fairy Lake (with the other 250 runners whom had been invited to crush themselves on this day) waiting to run up Sacajawea Peak and on along the Bridger Ridge in Bozeman last Sunday, I had nothing more to prove besides the fact that I had the will to stand, to run, and to complete the mission ahead of me. I was all smiles. It was no longer about drawing the well dry, but replenishing it. I couldn’t wait to have the chance to enjoy the strength of a capable body overcoming jaw-dropping nature (no matter how long it took us to do so.) Rather than seeking vindication here, I sought inspiration – fuel I could use to redefine what is next.

The Bridger Ridge Run is undoubtably the most technical, rugged 20-mile trail race to be found. But not many talk about the fact that it is also tremendously beautiful. With just over 6500ft of elevation gain, and over 9500ft of elevation loss, those that attempt it will literally place themselves on a physical and emotional rollercoaster in the mountains above Bozeman, and will have the most sweeping, spectacular views imaginable as a result. From the skree covered flanks of Sacajawea to the challenging, clawing climbs of Ross Pass and then onto the formidable Bridger Ridge where, like a bird flying high above the patchwork quilt of city below, one couldn’t help but imagine soaring between the peaks and be elevated – literally – by proverbial wings. I recall looking across the sky from the top of Saddle Peak, with about 6 miles left to run, and seeing the next aid station perched atop a mountain top in the distance. I could make out figures of runners, silhouetted against the sun, with granite, green, and sky blue surrounding them in every direction. And, step by step, they drew nearer.

Together, Derek and I ran 20-miles through the sky, descending back to civilization with a relieved smile and legs ready for a rest. We didn’t break any bones, shed any tears or blood, though we did endure the tremendous gusts of freezing wind threatening to blow us off the mountain, the stealthy goat paths that attempted to lure us into the woods and away from our destination, the shards of granite and limestone that clawed at our ankles and hands as we navigated the course, and the sun blazing upon us as we ran, exposed, over the mountaintops. We made it – together, absolutely.

We will go back to Bridger – of this I am sure – and we’ll work to conquer the mountain again, but faster next time; a task that will require us to come to know those mountains, and their altitude, very well. Already, the thought of attempting it again has redefined whom we are as runners in that time, and of course who we are as athletes and people, for it takes a special type of runner to submit to the thrill and addiction of this laid-back yet incredibly serious race.  Surmounting the seemingly unsurmountable is entirely too desirable in this household (or at least in this little heart) and, I suppose, in these last 14 days the largest lesson learned is that the challenge will always be sought, and is ALWAYS worth accepting.

When I returned to my desk today, I noticed that the words of Mary Oliver still hang plainly above my workspace and read “What will you do with your one wild + precious life?”

Well, I don’t know the answer to that question. I suppose that I am doing that thing right now.

But a few of Oliver’s other words encapsulate my sentiments as I hang up my running shoes, and racing fury for the fall, and ponder what comes next:

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.”

– poet, Mary Oliver

And, I think, I will be.