Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mountains, Man Crates, and the Furr of a Blitzen Trapper

I was recently introduced to Man Crates through a special and fun project they had in the works. They wanted to create a nostalgia project that made a person reflect back to when/where Mother Earth really took their breath away and their love for the wild began. I was immediately excited about the project, but I had never heard of Man Crates... so I wanted to do some research before agreeing. What did my research discover? Well… to say the least… Man Crates are flipping awesome!

Manly gifts packaged in a wooden crate that requires a crowbar to open? It’s badassery at its finest! What man wouldn’t love this? This would be an ideal gift for Father's Day, a birthday or just an "I love my man" present! I was sold and after throwing maybe not so subtle hints at my wife about receiving a crate of my own… I settled down and started thinking about the project. When did Mother Earth first take my breath away? When did I fall in love with the wild?

I would like to tell you that I fell in love with the wild the moment I stepped foot in the woods as a child… but that would be a lie… and I’m not a liar…

 *checks pants for fire*

Whether I was in love or not… I did spend a ton of time in the woods as a young lad. I can’t count the miles I spent riding bikes down the old logging roads behind my neighborhood, the number of sticks used to build architecturally sound forts that could withstand even the most severe attacks from Shredder’s evil Foot Klan, or the unimaginable hours spent crawling around in Army fatigues spraying my best friends with endless amounts of blue, pink, and green balls of paint. I thoroughly enjoyed spending long hours in the woods… but it wasn’t love. It never took my breath away… well… it did if we were using the trees as coverage for a “ring and run” attempt on an unsuspecting neighbor’s doorbell. But you know the kind of “take your breath away” I’m talking about right? That wonder and awe moment. Well… dammit… I stand corrected again. We did wonder if those neighbors saw us… and awed at the sight of our parent’s crossed arms and tapping feet as we returned to our homes to collect our punishment. But the woods were just fun. It was simply our way of life.

So when did it happen? When did beautiful Mother Earth open my eyes and heart to the wild? Well... I'll tell you the true story of how it happened...

When I was only 17,
I could hear the angels whispering
So I drove into the woods and wandered aimlessly about
Until I heard my mother shouting through the fog
It turned out to be the howling of a dog
Or a wolf to be exact, the sound sent shivers down my back
But I was drawn into the pack and before long
They allowed me to join in and sing their song
So from the cliffs and highest hill, yea
We would gladly get our fill
Howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn
And I lost the taste for judging right from wrong
For my flesh had turned to fur, yea
And my thoughts they surely were
Turned to instinct and obedience to God.

Hmmm… does anyone else smell something burning?
I’m not Catholic but I do have a confession. The story above is not entirely the true story of how I fell in love with the wild. I fibbed a little. I was 27… not 17.
*looks to the sky for lightning strike*
Ok ok ok... before my pants really do catch fire and God strikes me down with a bolt of lightning… I’ll tell you the cold hard truth. The italicized words above are not mine. I know… shocking right? They are in fact the beautiful words of the Portland, Oregon based band Blitzen Trapper and their song called “Furr.”
The first time I heard this song it struck like a big ole solid G chord in my heart. It was as if Eric had lyrically crafted this song based on how I fell in love with the wild. I loved the band instantly.
Now by 2013 I had been running for a few years and even had successfully completed a 50 mile race and a handful of 50ks. I had secretly committed to making 2013 the year of discovery. Not only pushing boundaries as a runner… but perhaps more about pushing my own personal limits and discovering who I was as a person. As humans, we are ever changing and I felt as though I hadn’t completed evolved into the man I was supposed to be. I felt like I was on the right track… but wasn’t quite there yet.
In March 2013… I found myself standing in the middle of a shivering crowd at 4am at Vogel State Park. Who knew a long night of too much Avondale Saison with my best friend a few months prior would land me at the start of the 68 mile inaugural Georgia Death Race. Convincing me to sign up for the GDR was probably his way of getting revenge on me for shoving him into a thorny bush outside of my apartment. Sorry again  Scrump… I don’t rememeber… but you probably deserved it.
GDR was to be my first true mountain trail race. I had done plenty of races prior but never any races in real mountains. The race was an amazing learning experience. It was the furthest I had ever pushed myself. I watched a beautiful sunrise, ate my first bacon grilled cheese, and humbly death marched the final 20 miles on blistered feet with a retired Army Ranger. You would think after 19hrs of “epic” mountain time I would be in love with the wild… but I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong…
I could hear the angels whispering…”
 But I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I had however… fallen in puppy love with the north Georgia mountains…
That pesky north Georgia mountain love bug bit me again soon after GDR. I found myself grabbing a pair of cheap, vodka brand engraved sunglasses from a soon to be lifetime trail bro Jason Green


The next thing I knew… Willy had drawn a line in the gravel with his foot, told us to stand behind it, and blew a bullhorn. The inaugural Cruel Jewel 56 had started.



This race was an adventure. With a 4pm start… most of the race would take place in the darkness… something that I’d never truly experienced as a runner.
The part of the race we actually saw was filled with beautiful single track…
I vividly remember leaving an aid station as the night was closing in. I crossed over a bridge and started to make my way towards the dark, lonely, foggy woods…
So I drove into the woods and wandered aimlessly about
Until I heard my mother shouting through the fog”

Well unlike the song… I didn’t actually drive into the woods… I ran into the woods. And I wasn’t necessarily wandering aimlessly… I was following flags. And it wasn’t my mother shouting through the fog… it was my crew and bro-bro Chuck. Still… you get the idea.

I somehow was fortunate enough to be the first person to cross the finish line and won my first ultra... but I still wasn't truly in love with the wild...

A few weeks after Cruel Jewel… we headed up to the Smoky Mountains for a family vacation. My parents had surprised me and Kati (my wifey) and my sister’s family (husband Michael and daughters Kinsey, and Brantley) with a weeklong cabin stay in Gatlinburg! Surprisingly… I had never actually vacationed to the mountains. I had always gone specifically for a race… it was never to simply enjoy spending time in the mountains with the ones I love.
We unpacked our bags and settled into the cabin. Everyone was drained from the long drive and wanted to rest, so I decided to venture out onto a trail for a sunset run. “I could hear the angels whispering…” as I drove into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and found a spot at the Alum Cave trail head. I grabbed a handheld water bottle and headed out into the woods. As the trail began to climb… the angel’s voices became louder…
Eventually the trail opened up and surfaced out of the thick trees. By this time the angels were no longer whispering… they were singing praises and blowing trumpets! I was finally home.
I stood in awe... gazing out over the silhouetted mountains. Time stood still. I drew in a deep breath of fresh mountain air and slowly released it. I took in another. I could feel the air changing me
For my flesh had turned to fur…”
It was as if Mother Earth had wrapped a tourniquet around my arm, found the largest vein, and injected me with the drug WILD. My heart beat faster and faster as the drug slowly circulated throughout my bloodstream. Mother Earth knew she had hooked me. She had injected the purest form of the drug because she knew… she knew I would be rendered helpless to the power of WILD.
 Over the course of the following 6 days… I fell in love.
“From the cliffs…” 
“and highest hill…”

“We would gladly get our fill…”

I ran wildly through these gorgeous mountains…


I took the time to appreciate God’s handiwork…


My soul was cleansed by the mountain waters…


It was as if my eyes had been opened to some magnificent invisible realm. A realm that had always been there… but I never had the capacity to perceive it. I felt exactly what my niece Brantley had felt when we took her to the aquarium for the first time…


I had rediscovered the blissful and untainted spirit of my inner child.
I left the mountains that week a changed man. I had fallen in love with that way of life. Everything made sense when I was in the mountains. I could hear this silent, ancient voice… a voice that relaxed me… that calmed me… that slowed me down… that opened my eyes and heart to what life was truly about. Somewhere along the way…

I lost the taste for judging right from wrong
For my flesh had turned to fur, yeah
And my thoughts, they surely were
Turned to instinct and obedience to God.”

It wouldn’t be until months later (October 2013) after the successful completion of the Pitchell adventure…

that I would truly feel accepted into the wild. After traversing 69 miles of rugged North Carolina mountain trails… Adam Hill gave me a hug on the summit of Mt Mitchell and welcomed me as a young wolf into the pack. Little did I know at the time… but those 18hrs would change me forever. It changed my entire perspective on running and adventure. It felt like I was initiated into a secret underground society.

"But I was drawn into the pack and before long
They allowed me to join in and sing their song

Howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn..."
It was after this adventure where I adopted my running mantra…
“Run long, run wild, and howl loudly.”

(Adam "Mad A" Hill)

The mountains bring me an inner peace that allows me to love deeper, dream bigger, and live simpler. At times I get frustrated when work, injuries and other obligations won’t allow me to venture up to the mountains. But even when my soul becomes deluded with the worries and stresses that life often brings… I can still feel a hint of the drug flowing in my system. I can still hear the angels whispering ever so gently in the clouds that roll over the mountains… “come home”… the wolves standing on the cliffs and high hills howling under a harvest moon…  “come home.” For now… I’m patiently abiding my time. Waiting. Waiting for the day to come where I no longer have to bounce up to the mountains for a quick WILD fix. Waiting for the day where I can hook right up to that mountain IV and have a daily dose of that original, pure, exhilarating, life-altering, reality bending drug that Mother Earth hooked me on years ago.
Run long, run wild, and howl loudy…


1 comment:

  1. Great post Zachary - this really gets to the core of it. Maybe your downtime from running due to your calf injury is giving your creative skills the chance to blossom instead!

    Greetings form Germany,