When I used to run, people would often ask me: “What are you running from?”
As the mile markers would tick away rubber shoe to rubber track, I’d obsess over that question. I used to make elaborate wishes in my head as the rhythm of my footsteps carried me lap after lap. If I ran the next heat faster, they would notice me. If I ran far enough, I wouldn’t have to go back. I’d pretend that my feet could take me away from all of the stores and the buildings and the machines to a place no cars could go.
See, when I escaped the asphalt desert, something wild awoke within me. I traded my rubber soles for bare feet and clean air. And I started to find my footing, weaving between the rocks and woods searching for forgiving earth. For a while I imagine I’m not at all clumsy in my path. But it only takes a lone misjudged step and a momentous root to remind me that I am.
The downhills are my favorite. Control is so easily squandered, when you give yourself up to the scale of a hill. But like an untamed horse, I find my own gravity in the slope and forgive what might be lost. I find a place where I don’t have to want more than I need. There are dirt and leaves and stones beneath my feet, crisp air, my friends at my sides.
We hit the trail when it’s still dark. Even the birds maintain their slumber. Only our footsteps and breathing break the silence and the dew. We climb together. The sun rises and sneaks in like a second story thief. A slight groan of struggle and a quick glance back thumbs up.
At a break in the trees, we approach the top. The wind howls its testimonial. The laughter. Some of the best embraces are the ones shared on top of mountains.
We survey the world around us.
Stop breathing for a few moments.
Slow the heartbeat.
When I used to run, people would often ask me: “What are you running from?” In the mountains, the valleys it’s no longer about what I’m running from.
It’s what I’m running to. •
Elizabeth Chadwick graduates in May of 2014.