Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Because I Am Here

Text by Matt Gray
Photos by Daniel Gray

In 1924, when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory uttered the three, now infamous words, "because it's there."  Time and time again this response has been quoted by other mountaineers, used as justification and rational for going to the edge, and offered in place of the much longer, much more complicated explanation which any person seeking wildness and wilderness has contemplated over and over again during arduous miles and soul shaking ascents. While Mallory's phrase is profound, it can also be interpreted as too definitive and as an over-simplification of our most incredible experiences on this earth.

During my last two running stories, I've explored the concept of Wind Horse as an attempt to further clarify my own answer to the question, "why do I want to run so far?" As we quite literally descended into the depths of the Grand Canyon at 4 am on November 9th, hoping to complete the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim challenge, I immediately returned to this sense of bliss and personal fulfillment found in these other Wind Horse experiences. 

With only the glow of somewhat bright headlamps to guide our way down the first ten miles of the steep and technical Bright Angel Trail, my world consisted of a microscopic area of earth. If it hadn't been for the changing color of dirt beneath our feet, we would have no other indicator that we were covering any ground whatsoever. And when your horizon becomes that minute, you have little else to do than turn inward and contemplate that all-to-familiar question again and again.                                 

But the pre-dawn silhouettes, the sunrise, and the brilliant illumination of day does not offer any reprieve from the question.  By then, we are deep, deep into the canyon.  The sandstone walls rise a mile above us. The trail creeps and bends around fold after fold of inter-canyon geology. Our horizon is no longer minute, but the incomprehensible expanse of the grandest of canyons makes us feel small, not only in this present moment, but infinitesimally tiny in relation to time and the millions of years that the canyon represents.

Does such thinking about our magnificent insignificance deter us from finding the will to put one foot in front of the other? From waking for another day? From thriving in another moment? No. Nihilism has no place amidst such a beautiful landscape.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  We are not deterred, but determined: our will is strengthened, our resolve to carry on made firmer.

And just as we are nearing the edge of the North Rim and coming to terms with our existence, we are tested again. A dozen other Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim runners pass us already on their way back south, moving faster, lighter, freer of pain. How are they in such better shape?  Where did we go wrong with our own preparations? Several other runners on previous days have also left their mark on our minds and on a chalkboard just a few miles from the trail's end. Even this remote experience that we thought we were having is not unique. So why then would I want to run and suffer and go beyond and travel to the edge and climb mountains and traverse canyons?

Because I am here, and as long as I am here I am going to savor the hot taste of life and thrive in every moment given to me by the unwieldy probability that I even exist to begin with. I will run, simply because I am here and I have the privilege and opportunity to see the grand and miraculous expanse.

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