By: Rachel Werner
Solace is my only friend in a valley shrouded in nightfall. The pounding of my heart seemingly in time with the striking of my feet against a desolate trail, though out of sync with my breath, as I weave in and out of pitch black tunnels. Even in the darkness, the majesty of the mountains does not escape me—beauty and life reside in these hills. And this journey I’ve embarked with a team of 10 others continues to draw deeper into nature’s folds. The weight of our collective choices becomes fully apparent with each stride I muster…the race is not yet half over. Many more miles await. Consciously, over and over again, I make the choice to push on.
In August 2017, I chose to embark on one of the most challenging endurance events currently held on American soil. Welcome to Ragnar Colorado, a 188.2 mile trek from Copper Mountain to Aspen-Snowmass, an endurance event like no other, thanks to the relay hodgepodge of trail running, road running, high-country camping and/or van-living immersed in wilderness, peaks and challenging altitudes.
People are usually surprised when I share I’ve completed such a wild endurance event. But I think it’s important to share that the journey to this event for me began three years earlier when I began running outside on a regular basis. I often joke that outdoor recreation is my “natural” Prozac, but there’s truth in those words too. My weekly sprints along the lake or through the local arboretum provide a respite from the daily grind—replenishing my mind and heart in tangent with a physical release.
And the health benefits I experience in nature are not uncommon. As American College of Sports Medicine fellow Dr. Pamela Peeke discussed during an interview with Time magazine, researchers “found that people who walked for 90 minutes outside were less likely to ruminate on their problems and had less activity in the brain area linked to depression, compared to people who took similar walks but in urban areas.” In addition, Dr. Peeke affirmed that “nature becomes a major distraction from all the stresses of life.”
Natural wellness advocate and blogger Lydia Ojuka Riley also soaks up quality time outside to holistically rejuvenate. “Nothing brightens my day more than a long walk and when I used to work at an office, I would spend lunch breaks walking and getting some sun,” she shares. “Now that I work for myself, I get to either start or end most days with a walk outside. Plus, to me, hiking is just walking in the mountains and I’m lucky to live near the mountains of Salt Lake City; I can drive 15 to 30 minutes to be on a beautiful trail. It fuels my joy to go to the mountains so I try to do that as often as possible.”
Riley may replenish her #blackgirlmagic via solo treks, but kidlit author Aisha Rice leans more toward more inclusive outdoor treks. “I stay active in the outdoors by hiking with my girlfriends. We hike at least 3 miles, then put up our hammocks and chat before hiking back down the mountain. It really allows me to connect with nature and gives me quality time with my friends which feeds my soul,” Rice explains. “I also stay active outside by playing with my pup Charlie. We both enjoy running around and releasing some energy. Plus, when we get home, everyone is calmer and quieter which normally leads to baths for both parties.” She also suggests taking a book or a journal along for those truly craving alone time. “The stillness and beauty of nature are very therapeutic to watch and be in.” Moments like these she prefers to soak up barefoot to absorb a sense of centeredness with the earth.
Like Riley, Rice and my Ragnar teammates, I find myself enamored by the peaks surrounding vast valleys, ridges speckled with wildflowers, mountain springs and a level of serenity that’s almost impossible to come by—or cultivate—keeping up with the frenetic pace which is now the hallmark of most of our daily, urban lives. The greatest gift of lacing up and hitting the trails for me on many days is that for one to two hours, all I have to focus on is running, followed by hydrating and eating a healthy snack, once I’m done.
I'm frequently without cell reception or even basic bathroom facilities during those times I am outside of city limits. Several days a week, I wake up thinking I'm ‘Heading out to do this again? And the answer is ‘Without a doubt!’ Because more so than the bragging rights, what my runner’s heart and spirit longs to reclaim is the tranquility of being off the grid—and the satisfaction of preserving all the internal strength I’ve discovered along the way.
How do you reclaim tranquility in your life? Tell us in the comments below.