Finding Our Way

I was lassoed yesterday by an entry on a blog called Runbikeswim. (Really it should just be called Bike, as she doesn’t seem to do a lot of running or swimming, but, hey, I know how that goes; I had a blog for a long time called Whine Country because wine was going to be a major focus of it, but it didn’t turn out that way at all.) This girl sounded so desperate I felt I should comment. Just to try to help, you know? But everything I came up with was so banal I thought there was a small chance reading it would drive her further into misery, and a large chance she’d be quite bored. So I didn’t comment.

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One of the things we do as endurance athletes is think about what we do—why we put so much time and energy into it, whether we're getting the rewards we hope for, if we're neglecting other important things (or people). It's unavoidable; we’re out there for a long time and the mind wanders. On my 12-mile walk around Portland today, while standing on the Steel Bridge watching timber drift downriver in the high, churning brown water, Really a Biker’s sad post popped into my mind. As I pondered it again, I recalled an essay I had read called "A Runner’s Pain," by a philosophy professor named Chris Kelly. It begins like this:
My Madrileñan girlfriend and I had bickered the whole four-hour drive down to the sea; and, so, as we pulled onto her parents’ macadam driveway, I immediately shoehorned on my Asics with a popsicle stick. A lonely mountain peak (named La Concha or The shell) loomed over the seaside town, and I was going to run up it. “Be back in a bit,” I snapped, and ran off, the same silly arguments repeating under my breath in a loop. I was in what one might call mental pain. Running is much better than Advil for this kind of suffering, and so I hurried toward the mountain above Marbella.
After an ecstatic, angst-purging, painful (in a good way) ascent, our hero must make his way down the mountain. But by now the sun has set. Blindly negotiating a scree slope strewn with boulders, he becomes battered and bruised. He grows dehydrated, suffers chills and nausea. He sharply injures a knee. The combination of factors—there's dense vegetation, too—makes going on impossible. He stops on the one small patch of bare dirt he can find. “I was worried: mental pain again.” How does he find his way out?
In the end, I was sitting there in the dark wishing the moon were out or I had a flashlight. My knee was feeling a bit better, but I really couldn’t see anything. Then a little miracle happened. The mountainside was awash in light, as if someone had flicked on the moon. The beach town had opened for business, and all at once, the neon lights, the street lamps, the carousel, the boardwalk lit up as if in response to my wishing. It was a wholly unlooked for revelation. And what did the light reveal, but that I was sitting on a path! One moment, I was lost on a mountainside, sitting among the bushes and brambles, civilization unaccessible. A moment later, with a little light and a new perspective, I was on my way home. And this is the key to happiness: turn the lights on and look around. Or rather wait for the lights to come on. With a little patience and then a little light, you will discover where you really are, what your status really is. Give your experience as much meaning as it can take, which is as much as it deserves, and savor it, even if that experience happens to be the one we call pain.

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