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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Events

May 29, 2019

Practice Resurrection

Trail running in the desert can break your body, mind, and soul, but as one priest finds out, it can also reveal new life on the other side of death.

WRITTEN BY

Christian Hawley

My theologian of choice, Wendell Berry, once wrote, “As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign marking the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” Those last two words make for a great mantra, and on Saturday, September 22, 2018 in the cathedral of the hills that is Davis Mountains State Park, 71 of us got plenty of chances to practice resurrection.

A race volunteer yells up to the Primitive Loop aid station, “Somebody, tell Travis I got a woman down here whose IT band has locked up pretty bad and we might have to stretcher her out.”

The Primitive Loop aid station marks mile 26 of Spectrum Trail Racing’s Sky Island 50 kilometer course. The six foot tall, surfer-haired Travis wears his Texas Parks and Wildlife uniform like an REI Instagram model, but his smile fades as he realizes he already dispatched his backcountry response team for another downed runner. Travis’s conundrum reminds us all that death and pain are part and parcel of the resurrection practice.

Click on the image to access an interactive Strava route map.
*This route was created using Strava Route Builder. The actual course distance is closer to 30.2 miles with approximately 4,300 feet of elevation gain.

It’s me, Charles. You buried my dad a couple of years ago at St Matthew’s.

The pain began earlier that morning as the race started long before sunrise at the historic Indian Lodge. We, runners, climbed out of the camping area via the Skyline Drive trail. A slow mass of determined humanity churned up switchback after switchback illuminated by headlamps in the mist. The sound of trekking poles tinking against the volcanic rock recalled the sound of pickaxes in the hands of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who carved out the trail eighty years prior. The act of memory recalls its own kind of resurrection, and as I toiled up the mountain with my comrades in labor, I could not help but bring back to life the stories of the boys of CCC companies 879, 881, and 1856.

In the Indian Lodge parking lot, runners take their marks for the start of the Sky Island Trail Race.

Through the inky cold and rain, we stumbled and strove across the balds of the Davis Mountains. Down we dove to Fort Davis, the nineteenth-century military post, and just before we bottomed out into the parade field, I noticed a plaque entitled “Fiddlers Green.” The immortalized poem began, “Halfway down the trail to hell in a shady meadow green,” and it continued with a hardscrabble description about the final resting place of cavalrymen and horses. Ft. Davis, being host to the 9th and 10th Cavalry (the famous Buffalo Soldiers), erected the plaque in their honor, but for all of us on that morning trail, it felt like a portent of the miles to come. I ran with death through the shady meadow green, but life surprised me yet again as I made my way Hospital Ridge to the Skyline aid station.

The author cracks a smile on the other side of the tomb that is the 50k finish line.

“Way to go, Padre. Keep it up!” came the voice from behind the snack table. “It’s me, Charles. You buried my dad a couple of years ago at St Matthew’s.”

Downshifting hard from trail runner to parish priest, I stammered out, “I hardly recognized you, Charles, with the beard and all. What in the world are you doing out here, and how’s your mom?”

“My wife is running the 25k, so I thought I’d help out. Mom’s been living the gypsy life since dad died, but I think she’s ready to settle down again in Austin. Here, have a shot of pickle juice, and we’ll swing by St. Matt’s as soon as we get mom settled in her new routine.” From funerals to aid stations, life continues to emerge from the valley of the shadow of death. Practice resurrection.

As an Episcopal priest, the process of resurrection takes on a particular shape for me. Modeled after Mark’s gospel, it begins with a challenging and meaningful journey with friends and strangers before giving way to a solitary and painful death. Then comes the long descent into hell, and an interminable time in the tomb. Eventually, by the grace of God, one climbs back out of the land of the dead to emerge into a new life, celebrated by breaking bread with friends and strangers once again. For me, desert trail races participate in that resurrection process.

As I finished the Skyline Loop, I turned my face toward the Primitive Loop knowing that death and the tomb laid ahead. Solitary pain thrummed in the background, but in the fore bloomed a watered desert. An ocotillo, which days before presented as a dried brown stalk of thorny torment, now erupted with fresh leaves from every square inch.   Practice resurrection.

Never mind, the IT band lady is going to press on!

A long, steep climb through a notch in a plateau brought me to a lush, rolling loop of Mexican Feather Grass and Little Blue Stem. For the next six miles, I enjoyed views of the MacDonald Observatory, the deeper Davis Mountains, and eventually, an opposing glimpse of Indian Lodge, glimmering in the morning dew like some far off city on the hill. My legs died on that loop as well. What began as running and power hiking gave way to power shuffling and walking. As I finished the loop, I joined Ranger Travis at the Primitive Loop aid station.

A second shout emanates from a pony-tailed aid worker, “Never mind, the IT band lady is going to press on!”

I look at Travis, raise my eyebrows, and comment, “I had an IT band lock up on me a decade ago in the hills of east TN, and they had to cart me off the course. That woman is a badass.” Travis’s affable smile returns as he shakes his head in the affirmative, also clearly relieved he did not have to radio for a second response team. Having taken my fill of Pringles, pickle juice, and water, I start back down the trail toward Indian Lodge and the finish, but it feels more like a descent into hell.

Backcountry first responders tend to a runner who was stretchered off the course.

I literally hear wailing and gnashing of teeth. The young woman with the IT band, somewhere up ahead, fights through her pain and frustration in an uncomfortably vocal manner. I half expect Virgil to appear at my side to illuminate her sins because this descent feels like a missing chapter in Dante’s Inferno. I catch the IT band lady a mile later, and I give her my utmost respect and heartfelt encouragement. She manages a stoic nod, and adds the usual getting-passed-phrase of “Good job.”

Anything after mile twenty feels like time in the tomb to me, and time in the tomb moves according to its own rules. The sandy-bottomed creek bed at the base of the hill stymies my every step, and I think I’m shuffling along at fifteen-minute miles. Yet a quick glance at my watch reveals me scooting along the trail at ten-minute miles. Similarly, I feel like I’ve just eaten, but it’s already been thirty minutes since my last snack. After six hours of pickle juice and Snickers, my gastrointestinal tract waves the white flag. I force a few Gatorade Blocks past the nausea, but a reckoning awaits at the ranger station bathroom a mile ahead. I hit bottom in the bowels of the concrete lavatory. I have no idea how long I’m in that dark, silent place, but when I emerge, at least two people have passed me, including the IT band lady.   Practice resurrection.

The stoic determination of the IT band lady as she finishes the 50k course.

Practice has never made me perfect, but it has always made me better. Practicing hill repeats every Wed morning gives me the strength and confidence to take on the final two thousand feet of elevation change on this course. Practicing the little resurrections in an ultramarathon gives me the strength and courage to take on the rest of life. Loved ones die, communities wither, and carefully crafted plans go down the drain. The best way I know to bounce back from those moments is to practice resurrection, to talk to aid station workers, to notice ocotillos, and to eat a snickers before the home stretch of the Indian Lodge Loop.

I pass the IT band lady again on the final descent, once more acknowledging her iron will. A rudimentary arch in the service lot of Indian Lodge marks the finish line. Someone rings a cowbell as I come down the final stretch, while kids and dogs look up from their play to cheer me across the line. There are no medals or corporate sponsor gift bags, just a hard-earned trucker hat for my efforts. I kiss my wife and high five some of my running club friends. Looking around, I smile at the scene. It’s not exactly broiled fish on the shores of the sea of Galilee, but this post-resurrection experience isn’t far off. I gather with friends and strangers for some wood-fired pizza and swap miraculous stories. The IT band lady, Oksana, finishes ten minutes later. Practice resurrection.

Trail runners breaking bread post resurrection.

Cover Photo: 50k racers make their way up the Skyline Drive Trail at Davis Mountains State Park.

 

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Events

Jul 05, 2019

Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019 – Final Call for Entries!

The world´s greatest adventure and action sports imagery contest is underway with entries now being accepted.

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Red Bull Illume showcases the most creative and captivating images on the planet while illuminating the passion, lifestyle and culture behind the photographers that shoot them. An elite judging panel of editors and experts from around the world will select 55 Finalists, 11 Category Winners and 1 Overall Winner, to be unveiled at the Winner Award Ceremony in November 2019.

The Outdoor Journal Founder, Apoorva Prasad, has also returned as a Red Bull Illume judge this year, after previously serving on the panel in 2016. He said, “Judging the 2016 Red Bull Illume competition was an honor and also a genuine challenge, with an incredible range of entries to choose from. I have to admit that some of the final decisions were incredibly difficult to make. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the planet’s best adventure photographers present us with their work once again.”

In 2016, a record-breaking 34,624 images were submitted by 5,646 photographers from 120 countries, with Lorenz Holder crowned for the second consecutive time as the overall winner.

You can submit your images and become part of the Image Quest 2019 until July 31.  Everything that you need to know about the categories and previous winners can be found below.

Previous Winners

Last time around, German photographer Lorenz Holder took the top spot for the second time running. His atmospheric shot of athlete Senad Grosic riding his BMX across a bridge in Germany received the most votes from the panel of 53 respected judges. In addition to the Overall Title, Lorenz’s winning image also took home the coveted Athletes’ Choice Award.

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“Today I am just feeling overwhelmed!”

Mr Holder, who works as a staff photographer for Nitro Sports, explained how he got the shot to The Outdoor Journal, “I discovered this lake in Germany by accident and decided that this was the perfect spot for shooting with an athlete. The bridge mirrors in the water and this is the perfect circle. The day of the shooting we had to clear the lake of all autumn leaves before we have been able to do the shooting with Senard Grosic. Today I am just feeling overwhelmed!”

The Categories

Whether you are an amateur or professional photographer, young content creator, social media enthusiast or a videographer – there is a category for you! Categories are influential in the judges selection – so choosing the right one is essential!

Prizes

A huge array of prizes are on offer courtesy of the competition partners, such as Sony, SanDisk, Skylum, COOPH and Red Bull Photography. However, it doesn’t stop there, with great exposure on offer too, such as seeing your image on display at the breathtaking Global Exhibit Tour and in the Red Bull Illume Coffee Table Book.

How to Enter

To enter Red Bull Illume is very simple, photographers just need to follow these steps:
1. Shoot awesome stuff – what that is, you decide!
2. Register and sign in at www.redbullillume.com – it’s just a couple clicks
3. Choose your categories for submission – you can submit every image to two categories and in total 10 images per category = 100 chances to win
4. Upload your images. For the initial entry, only JPGs and MP4s are required
5. Submit your image until July 31, 2019 – once an image is submitted, it is final and can’t be changed

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