A puff of dust

When home computers were just becoming an entrenched part of our lives, I was a junior high student.  An Irving Aardvark in Lincoln, NE (at the time, probably still, the only aardvark mascot in the country).  One of the features of computers at the time was something called a screen saver.  This is a graphic that would come on for a specific period of time before the machine went to sleep or shut down.  Now a days our computers or phones just skip this step and go right to sleep, like a teenager.  You could customize the screen saver with all kinds of images.  Lasers, and clouds, and fish tanks, and the stars.  The stars were my favorite.  Think a warp speed scene from any space movie.  You could probably even search that online to get the idea.

It is also the best I can come up with when describing one of my strongest memories of virtually any outdoor pursuit I have been on.  Like many experiences you try to share it with people as best you can, but unless you know you don’t know.  While I am sure that I had this happen to me at younger ages, there is one in particular that is vivid.  I am sure a psychologist could explain what happened in my brain but since the late summer of 2008 it has become apparent every time I am outdoors.

Hike or run or bike or whatever long enough and you are bound to find yourself moving through darkness.  Either to get an early, alpine start or because your route took WAY longer than intended.  Side note:  The planning of those two has far reaching implications in how cool of a story it becomes.  My friend Matt was moving to Alaska.  He was driving as his wife was going to fly up with their kid.  Along the way he was hoping to get an ascent of the Grand Teton.  Like many things with he and I, I was game to tag along.  Without going into too many details, we dodged some late summer snow storms and summited.  Coming off the guide hut saddle we had a ways to go and knew we were in for a late night.

Matt (left) and I, 9.5 years younger

Which is where my story about my long ago screen saver comes in. This is one of the most vivid memories I have of anything I have ever done. Hiking along base of the Tetons, it was like I was in that screen saver.  Dust particles kicked up by myself or Matt reflected back at me from the glow of my headlamp.  Exhaustion and hunger making me feel like I was just floating along. Barely moving, yet flying through the forest.  Small hallucinations chipping away at my brain.  Had I somehow missed our car?  Why was there tiger in the trees (seriously)? It was the damnedest thing.  To this day I can feel it.  This has since become one of my “go to” stories when we get into a pissing contest of how tired you once were.

But this has happened other numerous times.  Usually when I am super tired.  The tail end of an overnight 50 miler.  Finish a long run in the dark.  But early morning in the mountains as well. I am sure there is some metaphor in there for life and a lesson in how we can approach it.  But walking along and I look down as I step and there it is. A puff of dust in my headlamp.  Different dirt each time, but the same as it was ten years ago and if I am lucky enough the same it will be in ten years.

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