On the Pointlessness of Running
I hesitated to write about it, because the point of the thing was to do something pointless, so why make a point about it?
Perhaps I should start at the point of departure, which isn’t actually a point at all, but a line. A squiggly, undulating, earth-toned ribbon that starts and ends at no particular point, traveling around and through most of my home on Southern Vancouver Island. It wraps itself around and holds together a small community of runners, hikers and mountain bikers. It travels through most of my days, whether beneath my feet or through my mind.
Apart from people, it is this line – these trails – that tie me most securely to this place. In truth, trails even bolster my bonds to those people, so we are all connected – me, my people, my place – through the sinuous strength of our trails.
We form a loop.
I have wondered, for years, whether a continuous loop could be formed to connect most of my favourite trails in the region. Typically, I cut the ball of yarn of our local trails into manageable threads into which I weave my evening and weekend running and cycling outings. An hour or two, a few kilometers at a time. A run at Thetis Lake, a ride at Hartland. What if they could be tied together? What if I could just keep running?
What if I could form a loop?
The idea of this loop circles back to the beginning of the year (2013), when I made a commitment to focus my attention on home and explore, to the fullest extent within my means, my backyard. At the outset I defined my backyard as Vancouver Island in its entirety, but early in the year, while out mountain biking, completely lost following the wheel of my friend Tim as he led me away from my known routes, I realized I had a lot to learn from and about the trails even closer to my back door. And so while I spent the year exploring tip-to-(nearly)-tip and edge-to-edge on the Island, I also got hyper-local – and often rather lost – learning the trails of Victoria. Through this exploration I came to change Partridge Hills from a personal route-finding hell into my version of heaven on a mountain bike. I traced the contours of Mount Work until I was as familiar with its flanks as Salim was his lover’s. I asked anyone in the know and then did my own reconnaissance until I too knew how to connect every trail on the southwest Saanich Peninsula.
I cannot adequately describe the pleasure borne of transforming trail intersections into familiar friends. Your land becomes your family; your point on that landscape connected through a lineage of knowledge to all others. For me, last year, while exploring my local trails I came to feel the most profoundly grounding sensation: Belonging.
“Everything in life is vibration.” ~ Albert Einstein
A state of belonging, like all equilibriums, is a state of movement. We are defined by our movement, by our changing states. As still as I may appear on this couch, staring quietly out the window at the Pacific storm raging outside, at the atomic level I’m a dance party in Berlin; as equilibrated as my friend the family man may have appeared on the outside, he told me while on a run with another mate in October that inside he was vibrating for change, for movement, for adventure.
So I told him about my idea to loop 60-odd kilometers of local trails into one big ol’ run. Told him I couldn’t offer him any first ascents, major scientific discoveries or public recognition to go along with this subjectively defined adventure. Acknowledged that objectively, rationally, the whole idea was pretty pointless. But I told him that that was kinda the way I wanted it, that I liked the idea of creating your own adventure out of the mundane, wasn’t averse to running around in a (big, undulating, visually stunning) circle, that I found resonance in Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s description of he and friend (and later founder of The North Face) Doug Tompkins when they took their transformative (unsponsored, undocumented, laissez-faire) trip to Patagonia in 1968: Conquerors of the Useless. “It’s kind of like the quest for the Holy Grail,” Chouinard observed, “Who gives a shit about what the Holy Grail is, it’s the quest that’s important.”
My friend, typically one drawn to the gravity of Big Important Goals, thought for a moment and then said yes. We had a pointless quest. His adventure. Our movement.
The thing about vibrations: They cause ripples. Ripples expand outwards. A pointedly pointless beginning gains momentum. Concentric circles amplify an original idea and within those loops a community finds the space to grow. Word got out. Suddenly three guys heading out for a pointless run became an event. It occurred to me that so much of my year of backyard exploration had been written in the cursive of trails – why not draft its final chapter in that same script, make the finale of the year and the personal project into a celebration of those trails? We set December 31st as our day. We plotted a route from Thetis Lake to Goldstream Provincial Park; to Mount Finlayson; to Caleb Pike at the southern end of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park; through to Mackenzie Bight at its northern end; into and around my heavenly Partridge Hills; down to Durrance Lake; across to the Hartland end of Mount Work Regional Park; up, around, over and down Mount Work to its southernmost appendages; along to, up and over Stewart Mountain; and then a final hobble back to Thetis Lake Regional Park. 60-something kilometers. 8000-or-so feet of climbing.
A pointless loop.
About 1/3 of the way into that loop, three and a half hours into what ultimately turned into a 9 hour day, having picked up a dozen or so runners to add to our original alligator of eleven, ten more waiting for us 2 hours down the trail, my friend wove his way up to me at the front of the pack, ran forward through mud, movement, conversation, a kaleidoscope of clothing, laughter and friendships-in-the-making until he was just off my shoulder, within earshot.
“I guess it’s not so pointless any more?”
I rose with the sun this morning and hit the trails early, in order to leave most of the day free to link up with my brother and pay a surprise visit to our dear ol’ da’ on Pender Island.
The hours alone tracing ribbons in the dirt gave me time to reflect on the day and the men it celebrates.
So I ran through the woods accompanied by the times my dad and I have shared similar places, those memories standing out as they do with the greatest relief in the landscape of our history.
My mind ran along the trails of Lake O’Hara with my father-in-law, the economist, feeling the value of those memories increasing with every stride and every day now that their supply has been cut down to zero.
And I thought of all the memories I have the privilege of creating and sharing with all the young dads in my life, who open their homes and their families to me and by their example provide inspiration every day for a belief in Goodness.
This one’s for all of you, with thanks.
My flatland friends can get haughty about big prairie skies being where it’s at, but I think we do alright out here on the left coast. Juan de Fuca Strait from Moss Rock Park, Victoria, BC (iPhone).
Day 13, 30 x 30 Nature Challenge: Summit Park, Victoria, BC. (iPhone)
I dove through a break in Victoria’s torrential rain today, landing - with mutts in tow - at Summit Park, the 23rd of my victoria.amongnature.ca locations. The moment I stepped into the understory of tall grass and wildflowers beneath the undulating groves of Garry Oaks I was hit by two sensations: The first was wonder: the park is perhaps the most stunning example I’ve seen of our local endangered Garry Oak ecosystem; with the camas carpeting the understory in profusion and dozens of swallows doing gymkhana through the boughs it was an absolute marvel today. The second sensation was that totally unconstructive human feeling of regret at opportunities foregone: What the hell had I been waiting for? I’ve lived in Victoria for 15 years and never before visited this amazing spot. How many of these moments have I missed?
The whirring of the birds by my head was a reminder of my past - swallows were one of my study subjects when I was doing toxicology research on the oil sands a lifetime ago - but also brought me back to the present and to a reminder of the Johannes Eckhart quote:
There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
I can’t claim to possess more than a momentary grasp on Eckhartian Zen, but the birds gave me a tour of the park Now. So introduced, I have a strong feeling I’ll return for a few more visits during the next thousand years.
Day 12, 30 x 30 Nature Challenge - Mother’s Day Walk: Spectacle Lake Provincial Park (iPhone)
Day 11, 30 x 30 Nature Challenge - trail run: Gowland-Tod Provincial Park (Partridge Hills). All photos iPhone. Photos: (1): Trail running with Tim is always an interpretive exercise in respect of the “trail” part; (2) Salomon sent me some new shoes, the Sense Mantra - I’m no speed racer, but they look and feel pretty speedy themselves; (3) Tim & Lola are here probably 4 times a week, making this very much their de facto backyard, and definitely their happy place; (4) the view north from the high point of land, looking towards the Gulf Islands, once again striking a bit of a Takao Tanabe pose.
Day 10, 30 x 30 Nature Challenge - urban parks (8) link-up run through Vic West and Esquimalt, BC. (iPhone) victoria.amongnature.ca spots hit: Macaulay Point Park, Fleming Beach, Memorial Park, Highrock Park, Esquimalt-Gorge Park. Photos: (1) Though not one of the parks, the Songhees Walkway and Victoria Inner Harbour have a natural aesthetic about them; (2) not even close to a park, but if there are deer hanging out in the Department of National Defence family housing subdivision, doesn’t that make it nature, de facto? (3) Macaulay Point Park; (4) Highrock Park; (5) the view along the Gorge waterfront of Esquimalt-Gorge Park; further down the Gorge, Banfield Park.