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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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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.

REWILD

TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.

PLAY

TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD

REMEMBER YOUR PAST

There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.

REINVENT EDUCATION

TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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