Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fear Ruins Things (Or How I Narrowly Escaped Being Mauled By A Moutain Lion)

Note: This is a long post. Apparently I've been gone so long that I have a lot to say (I have a lot to say. Weird.). This is the second consecutive post in which poop plays a central role. This does not signify a thematic change in my blog. I will return to non-poop-related posts immediately. Just read this. There are a lot of pictures at the bottom.

A couple of weeks ago I was out in Globe, AZ. Globe is a small town right on the border of the San Carlos Apache Reservation where Amor began building homes just last year. Globe is a small, depressed mining town. I am still learning a lot about the history of The Rez and Globe. It appears that The Rez was established for the San Carlos Apaches around 1871 with Globe as a part of it, but some of the area was the subject of some contention due to the existence of valuable metals. In 1875, silver was found in the Globe area. At that time, Globe was removed from the Rez and given it's current name. The silver reserves were quickly depleted within the next four years, but copper still remained. In the years since, Globe has remained primarily a copper mining town. As such, it lacks development and it kind of takes a good, hard look to start to see some of it's charm.

Conversely, my interest and appreciation for the Pinal Mountain area, rising beautifully above Globe, came immediately. The San Carlos area is high desert, sitting at about 3,500 feet in elevation. The Pinal Mountains, also an area hotly contended at one time due to the existence of silver, gold and copper, elevate about 4,000 feet above Globe. Traveling up into the Pinal Mountains from Globe offers the opportunity to travel through several ecosystems, from the desert floor, through beautiful pine forests to the mountain top, all within Tonto National Forest.

I have had the opportunity to explore the desert area on foot. Turning south out of our camp puts me on a paved, tree shaded road that quickly gives way to dirt. Shortly thereafter, it opens up into a typical dirt and stone southwest landscape and enters into Tonto National Forest. I have enjoyed many out and back runs from camp usually amounting to seven or eight miles round trip. My run essentially takes me through desert on a dry jeep road. I've chosen one ridge with a beautiful 360 degree view as my typical turnaround point. I love being on this ridge close to sunset. My experience has shown that no sunset beats a desert sunset. Add to that the fact that I've climbed about 1,000 feet in elevation over 3.5-4 miles and have a clear downhill run to the bottom, and I feel wonderful when I'm on that ridge.

I love that I have such easy access to this run and appreciate it, but what I've really wanted is to explore the Pinal Mountains to the southwest. They start just off of my route, with the peaks seeming just a mile or two a way (mountain peaks always look closer than they are). It seems like a geographic impossibility that the thick pine forests could exist on the sides and tops of these mountains. The pines also remind me of back home on the east coast. Finally, I found out that there are some well traveled bike trails in the mountains. I knew exactly what the trails would look and feel like up there based upon the riding I've done in heavily wooded areas back east. This is a different kind of trail than what you typically experience in the southwest, with thick, soft packed dirt singletrack. It is a type of trail I definitely miss. I've wanted to get up into the Pinals on my bike for months, but have been repeatedly thwarted.

The first time I brought my bike out to Globe, I went for a ride. Unfortunately, while still rolling out on dirt fire road, both my tire and tube got ripped open by something I did not see. Given the severity of the damage, I am sure that it was a mountain troll armed with a machete. Sadly, I never saw him coming. The damage to the tire ruled out a quick tube change and I had to limp the bike back to camp. I made it out with my bike a couple more times, but my job always got in the way of my fun and I was not able to commit the better part of a day to my ride. Then, I couldn't ride for about three or four months for reasons which will probably be addressed on this blog at some point.

In case I haven't communicated it clearly enough, I wanted to ride the Pinal Mountains badly and for a very long time. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got my chance. I was utterly and completely prepared. I visited the ranger station to get as good a grasp on the trails as I possibly could. I had my bike dialed in, with an almost new rear tire. I was loaded to the gills with water, had energy gels and food. I took off from camp around 7 a.m.. I had no immediate time commitments. I had done everything right and was prepared to enjoy a stress-free day in the mountains at which I had stared longingly so many times.

I started up my running route on my bike and was feeling good. I branched off on a trail that I had just discovered on a map to the southwest, which would ultimately lead me into the Pinals. There were moments that the trail became unclear and some was unrideable, providing momentary frustrations. I was still exploring and it was still cool in the desert, so I was having a great time. There is something about traveling through a new area of wilderness on your own. You consider yourself an intrepid explorer. You are a man. It's a lot like having a gnarly beard. But not as itchy.

Then the droppings started. I found very large animal droppings on the trail at fairly regular intervals. The initial thought was that they could be horse droppings, but I grew up in horse country and this did not look like the work of a horse. It seemed larger, a different consistency. They contained berries and other random things. These droppings were not the product of a domesticated animal. This animal was surely something large and something wild. As you read this, you will think I am out of my mind, but as a person alone with only some idea of where I was, the following conclusions seemed totally obvious.

1. I have spent time around horses, bears and other large animals. These droppings looked like nothing I have ever seen.
2. One animal I have not really seen in the wild is a big cat, such as a mountain lion. Since these were droppings I had never seen before, they clearly belonged to an animal I had never seen before. These droppings belonged to a mountain lion.
3. This animal had voided it's stomach quite often. When you void your stomach, you get hungry. This was a hungry mountain lion.
4. Based upon the freshness of some of the droppings, this animal was close by, at least sometimes. There was a hungry mountain lion nearby, sometimes.
5. I was carrying food with me and, being somewhat out of shape, I am probably very tender and delicious. I would make an ideal meal for a mountain lion.

Like I said, seems kinda crazy now, but these were perfectly reasonable conclusions in my mind at the time.

The wondrous new place I was "discovering" moments ago now became a dangerous, strange place. One that although beautiful, was not where I wanted to choose for my final, premature resting place. This sort of change in perception affects the way one sees everything. Soothing sounds of the forest became the sounds of a big cat moving stealthily toward me. My fun bike ride was now a terrifying fight for survival. I rode and hiked up the mountain, expecting that the droppings would disappear with each change in environment and vegetation. They never did. I often hiked rather than rode simply because it somehow seemed safer to walk than ride when being stalked by a ferocious predator. My fear completely overtook my ride. I reached Squaw Peak which was beautiful, at an elevation of nearly 7,400 feet. I hiked and road through breathtaking forest and deserted campsites. I gazed out on overlooks of desert and mountains. I saw cows at the peak of the mountain (odd and kinda funny). I rode a steep descent, harrowing at some moments. I experienced everything a ride can offer. The views, the challenge, wildlife, forest, desert, hiking, technical trails and smooth singletrack. I hardly enjoyed a moment of it, because I was too preoccupied with escaping a beast that I could not escape if it chose to make me it's prey.

Thankfully, I survived this near-death experience. An experience that didn't really happen. Because there was no mountain lion. If there was a hungry mountain lion on the same trail as me, I wouldn't be typing this. I would be a lifeless half-corpse on the side of a trail in Arizona, with my face chewed off. My "mountain lion" not only stole the joy I would typically feel while doing something I love, but replaced that joy with fear, trepidation, and self doubt. Given that I spent so much time walking and worrying, it didn't just steal the joy of doing something I love, it stopped me from doing it altogether.

I find that this happens a lot in life. Whether it's a new adventure or your everyday, irrational fears can come and steal your joy. Sometimes, like in my case, your imagination is much to blame. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but not when it behaves like this. Sometimes it's self doubt that sneaks in. Often times you've done everything you possibly can to succeed and enjoy yourself and you just can't. I wish I had a good answer to cope with these sorts of fears and the damage they cause. If I did, I would have enjoyed my ride a lot more. I guess it might not help that much, but it's important to remember these fears are not from God. He wants something more for us. He wants us to experience reconciliation and confidence in him. He wants us to enjoy every person and opportunity we have in our lives, with his creation.

What is your mountain lion? What's keeping you from enjoying life and loving yourself, nature and the people around you? You don't have to beat it or kill it. You don't have to outrace it. Climbing a tree won't get you away from it. If it is at all like a mountain lion, you'll know none of these efforts will help you escape. There is only one thing to do. Realize it doesn't exist. You were created to be in harmony with creation and you have been reconciled with God and creation. Whatever is stopping you from experiencing creation and relationships in all their glory simply do not exist. Accept this reconciliation and live in the freedom it provides. It's a lot better than spending your time scared over meaningless $#!^.

 Views near the top of Squaw Peak.

Lush greenery reminds me of the east coast. Never would have expected this given the surrounding desert.

There were eagles flying overhead during these photos, but I failed to capture them.
Started at about 3,500 feet a little after seven. Not a bad morning.


Return to the beautiful desert.
I did not enjoy any of these sights. Does anyone know what makes really, really big poops and lives in the desert, in pine trees on mountain sides and mountain tops? It was probably just a horse with diarrhea.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Starting Over

Yesterday I went for a run. This was the first run I have been on in quite some time. As soon as I hit play on my iPod (I was listening to the Beastie Boys classic Ill Communications, if you're interested) and took my first few slightly accelerated steps, the effects of my long break were evident. The first ailment I noticed was the pain in my right knee. Then came the soreness in the upper part of my left shin. This began a pattern of migrating pains, discomforts and cramps that moved throughout my body as my time on the road progressed. When I run regularly and take a brief time off, these pains are not unexpected, but they usually subside as I get comfortable and find my stride. This was certainly not the case yesterday, when my stride looked as awkward as Bambi's first steps. Things didn't get any easier as my body attempted to find every way that it could to rebel. By mile three or four, I began to feel a tell tale, deep cramping in my stomach. This is a pain that I have grown to recognize very readily from the times I have been irresponsible in keeping my hands clean and brought home a sickness from Mexico

Being out for a run and feeling like I literally might crap my pants is not a new circumstance. I think pretty much anyone that runs regularly has had this experience. There's something unique about running that I think just tends to jostle things around and sort of work the contents of your intestines downward. When this happens, you have a decision to make. This quandary is often partially predicated upon the amount of pressure you're experiencing. When the pressure is minimal but the need is urgent, you can open up your stride and get home as quickly as possible. When you've got the Mexico feeling going on, it's best to focus on maintaining control over the situation while getting home in a responsible but timely fashion. If you misjudge urgency or need or simply just find things are beyond your control you may have to take quick action and end up in the woods on the side of the road or bang on some unsuspecting condo owner's door. Although it's not the most family friendly phrase, I would articulate this event as "losing your $#!^."

Most of my focus for the latter part of my run was reserved for two things: Suppressing the attention I gave to all the aches and pains I was feeling and retaining the contents of my colon. Despite this commitment of my mental faculties, I did have a little left over to reflect over how much this particular run resembled starting anew in other areas of life.

Over the past fifteen months, I've had a lot of new starts. There have been a new internship, new jobs, new relationship, and constantly changing circumstances. Right now, I am about to make a huge transition I have yet to share here. I have learned that their are three main ways the people typically deal with massive life changes:

1. Lose it.
2. Throw caution to the wind, don't think too much and go full speed ahead (Sprint home).
3. Move forward thoughtfully and cautiously (Focus and get home in as long as it takes).

Many of my closest friends both here and back on the east coast have been going through major life changes as well. I have seen myself and others employ all three of these mechanisms in coping with big life change. Sometimes things get overwhelming and you just lose it. It's happened to me a few times lately. This can be a jarring, disorienting experience. Generally, when this happens, your problem becomes someone else's (that poor condo owner) and you sometimes have a mess to clean up. Human emotions and breakdowns can be pretty crazy things and the fallout is often dramatic. Every now and then you lose it. It's a fact of life, it's beyond your control. If you're lucky though, you've got some people you can count on and you can trust them to not spread the word that it happened.

When I moved out here, I threw caution to the wind. This was easy because everything seemed to fall into place. It seemed obvious that this was where I was being called. Nearly everyone in my life echoed and supported this conclusion. When I had to fundraise for my internship, the money I needed came quickly from many generous people (thanks so much!). I got out here and made a ton of great friends. A full time position opened up and it seemed meant for me. I met an awesome young lady. Work went well. Everything seemed ordained and inspired. I didn't think too much. I didn't have to. I opened things up, moved forward and asked for God's blessing. I found myself at home and comfortable.

Now I'm looking at a daunting new life change and challenge. Although I am certain that I have made the right decision in choosing to take on this challenge, I am intimidated and, at times, feel as if I am going to lose it. It seems that there is a lot of pressure (mostly self-applied) and a high penalty for failure. On the flipside, there is a lot of potential for some incredible things to happen with this new opportunity. As a result, I'm tempted to sprint all out into it, throw caution to the wind, commit myself to a direction and hope and pray for the best. Instead, I'm taking the third approach this time around. I'm thinking a lot and I'm considering plans and systems I need to design and implement in order to assure that I don't lose it. Thinking about all that I have to do and want to control, there is something else I have to realize as well. Just like my running example above, I'm involved in a lot of things I can't control. No matter which strategy I utilize, if my body decides something needs to happen, it's going to happen. Similarly, I will find myself at the mercy of a lot of outside stimuli and circumstances as I forge ahead into this new challenge.

I believe that the secret to future success will be preparation and utilizing every resource I have at my disposal while still finding a way to relinquish control. This release will manifest itself in trusting others to guide me and help me in my areas of weakness. Additionally, it will help to understand that no matter how well I believe I am handling things, sometimes small failures and losses are inevitable. Finally, this relinquishment will help me stay humble in the face of both failure and success. Knowing that I am a very small part of everything that is going on and that God is truly the one in control is critical. It will help me to not put too much stock in my successes or my failures. Because neither of them are really mine. The truth is that I'm taking on something that I can't do. That's alright though, because I like stepping out in faith and I'm kind of fond of the following quote:

"I want only to do the things I can’t do unless God does it."
-Ben Patterson
Now, I just need to do my part to try to keep my $#!^ together while He does the work.