I've been thinking about this post for a while now - the way the trail and my iPod leave a deep imprint on my memory. I don't know why it's taken me so long to write, but now that the premise has fought the test of time, it seemed like it deserved to be written up.Memory and desire, stirringDull roots with spring rain.-The Waste Land; TS Eliot
Like a lot of runners, I do a lot of my solo 3+ hour runs plugged in to my iPod. It's not so much to dissociate from the intermittent tedium of the run, because I've found that running without the iPod can be just as enjoyable as running with one. What I really plug in to the iPod for on my solo long runs is to catch up on my worlds. The worlds of politics, entertainment, literature, spirituality, and sometimes even music. As a typical ultrarunner who juggles work, family, home, runs, and sometimes sleep, it's hard to fit everything in to a week that I'd really like to. My long runs are one time where I can spend largely guilt-free hours indulging my curiosity.
And doing this, I lean toward great public radio and the full-breadth of its shows, like: On the Media; Left, Right, and Center; Car Talk; Fresh Air; Slate Daily Podcast; Frontline. Occasionally, I'll throw an audiobook into the playlist and maybe even some music.
What I've found strange over the years, is the mnemonic effect this audio has had on my runs. There are certain sections of trail that I can no longer run these days without thinking about a particular bit of audio that I was listening to when I ran it on one particular day. I have no idea why these linkages occur and why they seem so permanent. I can only guess that long runs have become so much of who I am, and are also times where my senses are so alert and wide-open, that it's only natural that there will be moments when things come together and flash themselves into the psyche.
There are probably a score of examples I could come up with - even more once the northern singletrack opens up and I get back on them after a long winter - but these few are most rich in my mind and seem interesting enough to share.
Carbonate Mountain and The Iliad - Book VIII. I was running a triple eight mile loop that began with a climb up Carbonate Mountain in first light. Looking for something different to listen to in my big build up to the Bighorn 100, I bought the audiobook of The Iliad and came to the beginning of Book VIII with the opening line: "Dawn. Saffron light over all the earth." The line was so beautiful and the timing with the first light of day so perfect, I can't run that opening section of trail in the early morning without thinking of it.
Bullion Gulch and On the Media (Oct 30, 2009). This instance put a huge lump in my throat even as my heart raced at 160 bpm on a steep climb out of Bullion Gulch, one of the first times I'd been on that new cut trail. The story on On the Media (story) deconstructed the decision by a Chicago TV station to air the horrible beating death of 16 year old honors student Derrion Albert who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The huge imprint this story left on that trail reminds me every time I'm climbing out of Bullion Gulch of both the tragedy and the transcendence of life.
Adams Gulch Big Loop and Car Talk (July, 2009). While I can't remember the specific episode, whether it was the one with the professor whose students peed in the air vents on his hood, or the one where the mechanic fixed a guy's nagging car seat problem in 12 seconds (for 50 bucks), I can't run one of the short ridge sections on the second half of the Adams Gulch big loop (cw) without channeling Tom and Ray. I have no good explanation.
Harpers Trail and Ray of Light (Madonna). In case it seems I'm only moved by the spoken word, Madonna's title track from 1998's Ray of Light is an inescapable companion every time I run the Harpers descent into Lake Creek. One summer day a few years back, the dance-track rhythm synched so perfectly with my stride that I haven't been able to escape it since, and that's actually been a good thing.
Of course, I could go on: The Big Bag of Money episode of This American Life and Democrat Gulch; a World Economic Forum episode of Planet Money and Lane's Trail heading back to the trailhead; the interview with True Blood actress, Anna Paquin, on Fresh Air and the trip up the valley on a clockwise Adams Gulch big loop; and my strange encounter with a strange little dog near Independence Creek while listening to Furr by Blitzen Trapper, and which I previously chronicled, here.
They are memories so ripe sometimes it's hard to describe, and I suspect they'll just keep piling up as long as I'm lucky enough and fit enough to hit the trails for hours on end. Like messages from the collective unconscience, I just accept that these memories will be there and that they may actually be there to teach me something I don't quite understand. Whether I'll ever stop long enough to figure out what that is, is an open question.
(Photo by Andrew* under Creative Commons)