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August 6, 2009

Zen and the Art of Ultrarunning (Part 2)

Everyone in our family likes to get an early start on Lake Alpine – but not all for the same reason.

The kids pile into the boat with Grandpa to hunt down the catch of the day, while I lace up my running shoes for a lap around my favorite mountain lake.

(I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned here – but I HATE fishing. I’ll just leave it at that, and spare you the big long rant. That’s why I’m eternally indebted to Grandpa for teaching my kids, who for some inexplicable reason can’t get enough of drowning worms on a hook. I keep thinking they’ll grow out of it, but now I feel like time’s working against me: the more of these experiences they share, the more meaningful they’ll become, and the more reluctant they’ll be to ever give it up. And this development really distresses me. I’m not kidding.

As for my wife … sometimes she fishes, sometime she runs. She’s multi-talented that way - and not nearly as neurotic as me. Let’s just move on.)

My usual destination is the top of the ridgeline above the lake, known as Inspiration Point. I’ve written about this run before; it’s where I got my mojo back after the stomach punch of last summer’s Western States cancellation.

I looped around to the backside of the lake to pick up the main trail to the ridge. It’s not terribly long, but it’s steep and rocky enough to put a sting in your legs and a burning in your lungs as you scramble towards the top.

This is always one of my favorite sights: a groomed, narrow trail leading steadily upward, with the crest of the climb in sight, and a slight glimpse of the beautiful vista that awaits you there.

I simply love this view of Lake Alpine; I could probably stand here all day if there weren’t equally compelling sights on the other side of the ridge …

… such as this little hideaway called Duck Lake. It’s marshy, secluded, and only accessible by a long hike. In other words … it’s probably a great place to be a duck.

The entire ridge line of Inspiration Point is strewn with large rocks, and over the years, hikers have assembled them into formations that spell out initials, words, or clever designs. For example …

… this meditation spiral just seemed to call out - like it had been waiting for me all along – as I realized that I had never noticed it before. Was it here on my last visit? Is it brand new? Or has it been here for 100 years? I honestly had no idea.

There’s an ancient ritual of “circling to the center” by walking a spiral labyrinth, which is supposed to clear the mind, provide insight, and put your life in perspective. The spiral represents wholeness; it’s a place to seek healing of the mind, body or spirit, as well as a place to celebrate life. Its meandering but purposeful path symbolizes your life's journey, and walking the spiral in mindful awareness signifies a transforming journey to the center of your being and back out into the world again. In Zen philosophy, formations like this are often considered to be sacred ground.

Considering all that … how could I not take a trip inside?

So here I am, getting my Zen on at nearly 8000 feet. I’ll tell you one thing - it sure beats going fishing.

I’ve reached the center! Do I look different somehow? Perhaps more enlightened? Purposeful? Whole? I’d like to say it was a transformational experience … but what I mainly felt was a bit dizzy from walking in circles.

The return trip was full of the beauty and serenity I always encounter in this part of the Sierras. No matter how many times I run through here, I’m continually in awe of how wonderfully this landscape affects me.

Eventually I’m back at the boat ramp, listening to fish stories and getting ready for the rest of a day that involves swimming, kayaking, rock jumping, or just chilling in a beach chair to read a book on the shore. By this time, whichever direction the activities end up taking doesn’t really matter; I’ve already grabbed my peace with the day – and maybe a little bit of Zen as well – that awaits every morning at the top of a rocky, scenic trail.

*It's an unrelated story, but you can read my original Zen and the Art of Ultrarunning post here.


Anne 8/7/09, 4:01 AM  

I think I'd definitely find a piece of my soul at Inspiration Point. There's much to capture, and you did a fine job of it in this post.

Backofpack 8/7/09, 8:20 AM  

Simply beautiful.

Now, if you were a certain ultrarunner that I live with, Duck Lake would not just be a great place for a duck, but a destination run. Yes, he'd drive me nuts on our vacation by wanting to go for a long one to Duck Lake and back. You have mucho self-control!

Backofpack 8/7/09, 8:42 AM  

Oh, and for what it's worth, some of my best memories of childhood were fishing with my Dad. Now I have zero interest in it.

Spokane Al 8/7/09, 11:05 AM  

What a magnificant location!

P.S. I am with you on the fishing part brother.

Annette 8/8/09, 7:00 PM  

Love the photo journal of your run. I so wish I had a place like that to run. So beautiful! I'm looking forward to some trail running in Sept. on my vacation. :)

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