On Running, Hand Sanitizer and Getting Schooled on Life by Aspens

aspen 1You would think that by age 38, I would understand that running gets you nowhere. Yet I seem to be the girl in DSW picking up a snazzy new pair of sneakers when the going gets tough, as I see them as a catalyst for the tough getting going. Needless to say, it never works, but on occasion, I still feel compelled to bugger off from my daily routine and figure out what it’s like, once again, to dispense with the bullshit.

So that’s what I did for my Labor Day weekend.

Beatrice Olivia the Mini Cooper and I beat it like a pre-freak-stage Michael Jackson on Friday morning. Destination? Aspen. Having lived in Colorado for nearly three years, I’m ashamed of all the places in this state that I have yet to visit. Aspen was on the list and there was a beautiful fringe benefit for the weekend: Jazz Aspen Snowmass, a three-day fest of musical delights, questionable food, overpriced beer (Blue Moon? Six bucks. Thank you, Coors.) and interminable people watching. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but let’s go back to talking about running for a moment.

Doing what I do, there’s a blurred line that separates my Public and my Private. Some days, I don’t know which is which, but there are few things I keep in cherished reserve. Relationships, family, the nuances that bring me to tears or explode with laughter – they’re the things that people closest to me know. And sometimes it’s fucking necessary to strip down from the persona back into the person. The difference?

Personas don’t have problems. People do.

And while I don’t consider myself an illustrated guide to the DSM IV, we all come with baggage and I’m no different. The crazy thing? It’s ours and no matter how fast we run, we can’t leave it behind. If we think about it, our baggage is beautiful. While some of it feels pretty shitastic (new word, check it out) when we acquire it, we’re the only ones who can control what it morphs into over time. Which brings us to the Aspens.

On Getting Schooled on Life by Aspens

Before I landed in Denver back in the winter of 2008, I was a raging outdoor fanatic. And please –  let’s just skip the whole you moved to an outdoor playground like Denver and you say you USED to be a raging outdoor fanatic? Life got busy. It’s not an excuse. Maybe it is. But I used to spend every weekend rock climbing, trail running, kayaking, hiking, backpacking and the like and since I moved to Colorado – home of the Fourteeners…yeah. Not really a goddamn thing except riding my bikes (which became obsessive and I’m recovering) and some Nordic skiing in the winters. Not a single snowshoe trip, only one trip to ice climb. Not an expedition trip since Kilimanjaro in 2008.

And that, my friends, is some bullshit.

So this weekend, I fixed it. I was up at 6AM on Saturday morning and headed out to do a few hours on a trail just outside of Aspen. I had my gear, my super-shitty Droid X camera/phone/soon-to-be iPhone and as the thermometer on the car cried in the low 40s, I set out on what the guides said was an 8.2 mile out-and-back along Difficult Creek. Leave it to me to pick something with “difficult” right in the name.

Now, here’s the thing about hiking: when you’re nose-on-your-toes, you don’t really have the opportunity to do a whole lot of technical mind-fuck-style thinking. Your main concerns are:

  • Not busting your ass in a place where you have no cell phone reception
  • Avoiding critters
  • Walking around piles of critter poo in the middle of the trail
  • Finding a place to pee where you’re not going to drop your ass onto something that could potentially cause “itchy” to happen.

Which brings us to blueberry hand sanitizer.

When you’re hiking or out playing in the wild, I will stand by my assertion that there are three things to never be without in your pack at all times (aside from water):

  • Organic fruit strips
  • A Ziploc baggie
  • Hand sanitizer

You gotta eat and for the size and weight, fruit strips (organic, because Fruit Rollups aren’t food) are nutrient/calorically-dense and delicious and you can mercilessly overpack in case you careen into a chasm of sorts and are stuck for hours/days until a shredded Brazilian mountain guide rescues you (this is my blog – let me have that). The Ziploc baggie is a no-brainer – it holds trash and for the ladies, our used TP. And the hand sanitizer? Great for bangs, scrapes, lacerations, contusions and gaping wounds as well as wiping-down hands post-pee. I prefer blueberry-scented, as it makes for a delightful whiffing experience when you rub your nose or next sneeze. Which will happen.

Back to the Aspens

When I’m out hiking, I’m interested most in the things I don’t get to see every day. I take pictures of what some people might consider to be odd things (and when I have a camera that doesn’t suck, I love macro lens photography). And so I’m strolling along the trail and suddenly I’m faced with this white wall of trees.

Aspens.

Smooth bark with occasional knots – if thinner and green, they’d easily be mistaken for bamboo. I’d never stood among them so I had to stand for a minute and acknowledge one simple thing: each of them had been where they stood longer than I’d been alive.

aspenWhich Leads Me to Being Schooled

So, nothing pisses me off more than people acting like assholes in nature. Leaving trash behind, going off-trail into vegetation (except to pee – this is a semi-free pass) or just fucking with what Mother Nature has been so kind to provide. I came upon a bend in the trail and realized that I was surrounded by trees where a legion of jackwagons had carved their initials into them. Professions of love, gang signs, declarations that so-and-so had “been there.”

I realized that the trees didn’t care.

While it pissed me off that these people thought that scarring a tree for life was an action worthy to immortalize their relationship that had already likely ended in a heated text message exchange, rude Facebook wall posts and un-Top 8’ings on MySpace, the trees just went on being trees.

Yeah, We’ll Talk About the Schooling Now

We all seem to go through life thinking that we’re the only ones to have loved and lost, hurt, failed or wounded in some form or fashion. Business deals gone bad, relationships gone south, people we love(d) turned shitty and the world we loved yesterday found the power to take it all straight down the tubes today. But our job – each of us – is to be a little more Aspen and a lot less woe-is-me.

When you look into the places where these jackwagons made their marks, you see a scarring process. A swelling. And a tree that’s gone on to rise above and around it that represents healing. That’s our job, right there. Because in spite of good intentions, deals well-made and hearts given in earnest

things go south.

And we can either crumble or grow a pair (along with some scar tissue) and reflect on the hurt and how we can use it to rise above.

Here I was, standing in the middle of a grove of vandalized Aspen trees, realizing that I’d been running and knowing full well that I can’t run from anything because that matched set of luggage is right there, packed and ready to take any trip I want to make.

And I found myself wanting to be more like these trees that left me breathless with their beauty – this random girl with a backpack full of organic fruit strips and blueberry hand sanitizer.

And to Digress Yet Again

It had been a long time since I’d traveled for myself and not for business or out of obligation to an event of some sort. It goes along with that bullshit about not having really gone hiking in over two years and blaming it all on life getting busy.

Life is as busy and as complicated as we make it – and that requires no explanation, as it is true. Timing is a lie. Busy is an excuse. And we make room for what and whom we want to make room for. And fuck off – I know I ended a sentence in a preposition.

On So I’m Back to Being a Person

Sunday brought another 6 hours and 10+ miles of wandering in the wilderness below Castle and Conundrum Peaks just outside of Aspen and some more great time to keep my nose on my toes and tell the shit that doesn’t matter to stay out of my head. But the Aspens, the wicked weekend of music and the act of giving myself a little credit instead of making excuses put me back where I need to be. Where I love being.

You stop by here to get Bitch Slapped by The Persona, and it seems you dig it when The Person makes an appearance from time to time. I’m grateful – there’s no other word for it. But this weekend, I figured out why I haven’t been able to write in ages.

Because The Persona doesn’t write, and that’s been a safer place/thing for me to be for quite some time. We all have our coping mechanisms and there’s nothing right or wrong about it. Until it starts to get in the way of actually living. Which for me, it had.

So today – 1,800 words and counting later – The Person is back. Yes, the slappings will continue (tune in Thursday…oh, hell yes) and the snark will be on in full force, but it was a lovely place to arrive at this weekend…the one where I told The Person it was okay to come back around.

I’m not my work.

I’m not my projects.

I’m not my schedule.

I’m a thirty-eight-year-old geek who loves great music, decent wine, better food and the occasional orange soda, hot dog and grilled bacon and cheese sandwich (not all at once – though I might have just planned the menu for my next backyard shindig). I think every house should have fresh flowers and there’s nothing in life so shitty that you choose to protect yourself at the expense of those willing and ready to offer you love. People are inherently good, you just have to look longer harder at times to find it than you’re willing. Everyone cries, and if you don’t, you should try it. And no matter how many things we have, if you don’t wake up each day feeling as if you could break or lose every single one of them and still walk out with love, strength and the balls to give it another go…

you’re doing it wrong.

Redux

Aspen was good. The music was brilliant. The nine hours of hiking I did over the weekend were a return to normal – as normal as I’ll ever be. And you know what? My normal is a fucking awesome place to be.

Find yours.

37 comments
Cassie Witt
Cassie Witt

Awesome post! I have had several moments here lately, where I got "schooled" by something that happened when I stopped moving blindly forward and did something new for a change. One of them was taking my first ever vacation (yes I'm 28 and have never been on a real "vacation" before) to Boca Raton, FL. It's a gorgeous tourist town by the ocean and being there made me realize how much I missed just hanging out with my husband. This has been hard because he's in school, I work full time, have a family, do freelance, etc. Yes, I know these are all excuses, but it took spending a whole week with him (isn't it great we're still both alive!) to see that. Pretty funny how we don't do the things we enjoy most because we're too busy! Such, bullshit...

Erich Campbell
Erich Campbell

Thanks for that post. I'm a workaholic who is in a panic and conflicted about an immediately upcoming, yet  pretty short, vacation. I needed to see someone else who has a 'persona' like I do in writing for my industry talk about being a person and letting go of the work, projects, and schedule for a moment.  As I try to clear the way for my time off, I'll really try to keep this post and that mantra in mind. 

Kara
Kara

You have no idea how this post resonated with me today. Just this week I spent a little bit of my own time getting schooled - although not in a gorgeous aspen grove. I came to many of the same conclusions about my life, just not as eloquently. This: Life is as busy and as complicated as we make it – and that requires no explanation, as it is true. Timing is a lie. Busy is an excuse. And we make room for what and whom we want to make room for. And this as well: Because in spite of good intentions, deals well-made and hearts given in earnest... things go south. And we can either crumble or grow a pair (along with some scar tissue) and reflect on the hurt and how we can use it to rise above. I need to write those on my mirror and read them every morning. Thanks.

Leon Noone
Leon Noone

G'day Erika, I knew  that if I was patient , I'd have a chance to quote Henry'Red' Allen again. "Ride Red, Ride!" Or as Louis used to say "It's a wonderful world" "Forget Your Troubles, C'mon Get Happy." OK  I'll stop. But it does show the power of fresh air. Go find someone to sing "All The Things You Are"  to. Above all, make sure you start having fun again. Regards Leon

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

Hi Erika, A first-timer here, but certainly glad I finally made it. I keep hearing about the Redhead, the personal, the amazing writing. I guess I came at the right time, with the real you showing up. I have no idea what being bitch slapped is like, so I need to peruse the archives and learn the language. But this made my visit worth it: "Finding a place to pee where you’re not going to drop your ass onto something that could potentially cause “itchy” to happen." :) Six bucks for Blue Moon (fake craft beer) is indeed a crime, and shitastic is my new favorite word :) I need to re-read this right now.

Karisa Dern
Karisa Dern

takes some people a lifetime to figure some of these simple lessons out. Good for you! Such an inspiring read.

Dust Bunny Mafia
Dust Bunny Mafia

Really good post, the part of it that hit me the hardest is, " I’m not my work. I’m not my projects. I’m not my schedule." A lesson that can be learned over and over again, with the force of being hit over the head with a 2x4. Maybe one day we can actually accept that reality.

Al
Al

Thanks for this, Erika.   Glad to see you out in nature and finding the Person, and your normal, again.  Sounds beautiful there.  Continue to enjoy the outdoors and treat us to the wonderful writing it inspires.  Luv it, Red. Al

Ed Mahoney
Ed Mahoney

Can you add a link to your organic fruit strips.  Hiking segments 22-24 of the Colorado Trail next weekend and I hate fucking trail food.

Amanda Morris Johnson
Amanda Morris Johnson

Thank goodness. I am so happy for you. Keep it up. Don't be a fucking avatar. :)

Killian
Killian

Hi Erika.  It's really nice to meet you.  The real you.  I'm Kel.  =)

Cherry
Cherry

I think the persona's real too but not as happy. I stayed weighed down by all my protective layers for a long time until one day I realized that although my protective persona was keeping me safe in some bizarre, convoluted way, it was also keeping me standing in a 4x4 poorly lit, lonely square. So I've been heading towards the Aspens and sometimes get scared by what I'm seeing, and, now & then, step into concrete that I need to work myself out of. Glad your normal is a fucking awesome place to be. Welcome back Reds.

The Redhead
The Redhead

This winter? There is no doubt. Good seeing you and I'll be seeing you sooner rather than later in Ouray :)

Paul Jones
Paul Jones

And no matter how many things we have, if you don’t wake up each day feeling as if you could break or lose every single one of them and still walk out with love, strength and the balls to give it another go…you’re doing it wrong.This may be my new Favorite Erikaism.  This was awakening to read.  Love the description of the Aspens and what they reminded you.  Thank you for sharing, and I hope you don't mind if I pass your words along to some that need them!  

Bill Wasinger
Bill Wasinger

Persona?  What's next?  Your hair's not really red????? (don't go there!) Great post Erika!  You hit on the thought so many of us forget, especially in the digital world.  At the end of the day, I always try to remember a line from a Kelly Willis song that says,  I have done the best I can,but what I've done is not who I am...

D.T. Pennington
D.T. Pennington

Here's a fun fact: some aspen groves count as the world's largest living entity. When they grow together, they have a shared root system. If you're looking at a thousand aspen trees, you are most likely just looking at one tree which comes out of the ground in a thousand different places.  Something to think about in the context of this blog. 

The Redhead
The Redhead

Been called worse. Muah, bitch! PS: where did you buy your fake post-its?

Sandi Amorim
Sandi Amorim

Printing, so I can highlight the lines I love and then slap myself later when I need it!  xoS

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