The Road Less Traveled

Dawn is painting the sky with a soft wash of rose as we begin. Laughter belies the fact that we have a daunting task ahead of us. Some will push ourselves to limits yet untried; finding answers to questions we never thought to ask. It will be a rigorous journey. And extraordinarily beautiful.

The path up Fred’s Mountain snakes back and forth amid alpine blossoms. Trees along the path appear as silhouettes against the warming sky. I stop here and there to attempt to capture the stark beauty of it in a photograph. I fail at this.

The lodge where we commenced becomes a child’s building block as we climb higher and higher. Beneath us lies a patchwork of fields stretching ever further into the distance. Suddenly we reach the eastern border of our mountain, and we get our first glimpse of them: The glorious Tetons. Just there. Almost close enough to touch. Almost. Now I know why the sun is so long in coming. She must climb over these. I feel her pain.

Columbine and wild geranium give way to stone fields as we near the crest. I feel like a mountain goat picking my way between stones as we climb along the spine. Light is playing in the valley below, spotlighting one thing at a time. I can’t stop looking at it. Except, I must stop looking at it. Every step matters along this treacherous precipice.

Summiting is exhilarating! I drink in the view while one of the generous volunteers refills my bottle. I grab a quick snack and am off. Just around the bend, I am astonished by another intimate view of the glorious Grand Teton, and his friends. Then the path carries us away from them and back to the base.

The next leg of our run meanders for a bit through grassy fields before plunging us into a fairy forest. Deep, dark and lush. And mythical. Only the most persistent shafts of light manage to penetrate. My feet are happy to be running on soft soil and pine needles. The burble of a creek flirts with us, until we finally reach the bottom of the valley and cross it. The forest occasionally yields to a clearing of wildflowers and sunlight, before pulling us back in.

What goes down must come up. We climb for 3 miles along the road before returning to the forest. I tell Mike I am glad we are doing this together; long doesn’t seem so long with him. We are now seventeen miles in, and fatigued legs protest the brutal, relentless uphill.

When next we enter base we are two thirds of the way through. But Mike’s stomach is betraying him. He decides to stay and rest, and sends me on ahead. We will finish the race alone…

Have you ever seen a rag quilt? My grandmother made them of tiny scraps of floral calico and feed sacking. There would be hundreds of strips; a marvelous cacophony of color! Imagine spreading that out over acres and acres of rolling hillside. Then imagine that you can step inside it, winding your way between the strips. A patchwork of wildflowers nodding and swaying all around you. This is Rick’s Basin.

Two or three miles in, the path winds into a grove of Aspens. Clean white trunks thrust their silver leaves against an azure sky. Birds play in the branches. Tiny animals rustle through the undergrowth, unseen.

Openings in the trees give me glimpses of Fred’s Mountain. Impossibly far away. And I keep moving further away. I wonder if I’m lost. But the trail markings tell me to keep going. Eventually the path bends back into the field of flowers, and before I know it I’m back to base.

I am now five and a half miles from finishing my first ultra marathon. But those five and a half miles will be a return trip to Fred’s Mountain. Alone. But not really alone. I cue up Gungor’s new album, Ghosts Upon the Earth. Good friends have put it into my hands for this trip. It sings the story of the people of God, from Creation all the way to God’s relentless pursuit of His wayward lover in the minor prophets. It will sing me up the mountain; intensifying…if that is possible…the glory around me.

Chris, a volunteer, meets me several yards below the aid station with the best Coke I have ever tasted. He tells me I am doing great and that it’s all down hill from here. I joke with the volunteers at the top, knowing at this point that I will finish. Even if I have to roll down the mountain. 🙂 I scarf down a turkey and cheese roll up, savoring each delectable bite. I drain my coke, grab my full water bottle, and begin the descent.

My heart is full. Full of beauty. Full of the glory of God, which is so very evident in this place. Full of gratitude, for life and health and strength.

This day has been prayer, from beginning to end. Sometimes with words. Sometimes with song. But mostly the walking, the breathing, the every moment. A ceaseless inward prayer of awareness, of Presence, of joy.

I run through the finish with my hands in the air. Jay, Lisa, and all the kind volunteers cheer me on. They have been gift this day. I am thrilled when Lisa puts the medal around my neck. And even more thrilled when, only a few minutes later, Mike follows me through the shoot. We did it! We did not get et up by the grizzlies. 😉 We finished alive.

Thanks be to God!!

Two roads diverged in a wood and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost

*My profound gratitude goes to Jay and Lisa, and their fabulous team of volunteers for the most beautiful event I have ever been part of. The organization and support were extraordinary. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!

**Particulars: Grand Teton Trail Ultra. We ran the 50k (31 miles). Roughly 8,000 feet vertical (gain and loss). Altitude: between 6,500 and 10,000 feet.

***All photos are from the first trip up Fred’s Mountain. I regret there are no photos of the rest, though they would have been inadequate (as are these). I had to put the phone away. Had I not, I would be there still……