The Mountain Cycle

I’ve just returned from the Territory Run Camp, hosted/presented by Aspire. This seasonal celebration showcasing my backyard trails is staged out of a mountain lodge on the edge of the Mt. Baker Wilderness. This event captures the community, ethos, and placed based connections that Aspire exists to support. Inspired by Ian Ramsey’s presentation on beat poets in the North Cascades, I took some time to play with my own trail lyricism and interspersed the words with a few photos from the year.

Mt. McGreggor, Stehekin, WA

It’s not a voice. It’s not audible. Unnamed, but not unknown. A frequency, emanating from an ancient psyche, juxtaposed against the static of modernity. Spoken by an orchestra of wind. Riding on echoes from the collision of continents. Originating from a wild place, far from the packaged, plasticized, polarized, politicized, punctual pretenses of comfort and security.  An invitation, an allure, a call to venture, to the mountains, to places further and deeper into the hills than I’ve traveled before. 

In hearkening to this siren song, suffering is my sacrifice. The terms are clear: only what I can carry. My choice, light, fast, and exposed. My physio-psycho capacity is my only currency. What will I receive in exchange? Miles of trail, relentless climbing, and access to the cathedral. 

Church Mountain, Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA

Initially, the miles are easy. I move swiftly, but reserserved, on wings of anticipation and fresh legs. The trail is familiar and well trodden by those holding close to the borderlands. However, as the day lengthens and the miles accumulate, I approach the junction, the furthest point, the beginning of the new, the point separating where I’ve been and where I’ve yet to trod. The edge of my experience.

Here every ridge crest, summit, and turn in the trail is a revelation. Running in a state of perpetual unfolding. Childlike, everything is captured in itself, and I remain in that eternal present so long as I can persist and resist the intrusion of anything that is not now. In this liminal space I can hear the universe. The sounds of creation unfolding. Here I receive the gifts and the questions the wild holds for me. Here my self is revealed to myself. Here I can make peace with my demons and my dreams, reconcile my ego, and clarify which concerns and commitments I most want to attend. 

Panhandle Gap, Mt. Rainier, WA

Alive, alert, and attuned, I negotiate the trail, submit to the unfolding landscape, and seek an impossible balance to continue while also face to face with the constraints of time and ability. My legs and lungs always falling short of the pace I envision, but persisting nonetheless. Continuing, I find my movement, my form, my gait, my imperfect but own perfect negotiation of pain and progress. 

The miles fall away and inevitably I turn towards home. I crave the finish and the permission I will give myself to stop. My mind jolts in and out of focus on my feet, the trail, the forest, my home, my family, my responsibilities, my feet, my form, the encroaching darkness. Any pretense of enlightenment muddled by a desire for the comforts I so recently forsook. 

Summerland, Mt. Rainier, WA

In a long anticipated instant, the trailhead is in sight signaling the end of my interancy. The satisfaction of stillness washes over the ache and fatigue. A celebration with waiting refreshment. Negotiating a jumble of gadgetry and amenities through the tunnel of my headlamp. The ritual donning of dry clothes. Satisfaction ringing with every ache and stumble. 

Sitting. Collapsing.  A long exhalation. It is a sweet but restless peace. Already the beckoning has been heard anew.  

Stehekin Valley Ranch, WA

Nick Triolo: In Praise of the Snaggletoothed Places

those ragged, dank, unmarked, up-mountain, down-creek corners of the planet where few people venture. Let us celebrate the wild nooks that remain, those countercultural, punk rock ecotones tugging at our dreams and screaming their anthems in a language older than words. Landscapes sculpted, not by man, but by the collision of continental plates, the rupture of volcanoes, the clawing glaciers and the relentless washing of waves, rivers and winds echoing and eroding. These are our nation’s vast wilderness areas, undomesticated and unconventional. These are lands which disavow race results, reject conveniences like port-a-potties and almond milk lattes. They are the anti-modern, the disconnected, unplugged, analog refutation to the digital distractions of our lives. 

Wilderness, by design, is a place where man himself is a visitor who does not remains.  As such, our time in wilderness is ephemeral, a retreat from our otherwise “normal” lives. Wilderness reflects back on each traveller an authentic self. In the wilderness pretense and posturing are crushed by the contours of the land. Wilderness holds no malice, only mystery. Moving through these spaces we become self-willingly human and alive. We move to the rhythm of some ancient dance, aligning with the reverberations of forces that shaped the land. As we run, scramble, duck, and leap through their rugged terrain, we remember that all life works this way: the sharp swerve, the occasional log leap, the challenging chug-a-lug of a never-ending uphill section followed by the rewards of a downhill whoosh that makes you feel light and free and childlike. Adventure: it’s out there, just as it exists inside us. Our hearts beat most happily in shared cadence with these—the snaggletoothed places.

Bobbi Barbarich

Winner of the Sawtooth Backcountry 2019 Women’s Adventure Scholarship

When I was little, I would explore animal trails that snaked up and down the valley around our house in the wilds of northern Alberta. I was an adventurer discovering new lands; comfortable with being lost, confident that the home I built from branches was sturdy.

But as I grew up, I learned that the valley was stalked by murderous bears, that the creek could possibly swell and swallow me whole, and my shelter wouldn’t keep out the rain, much less someone coming to hurt me. I learned I should never be there alone. The wild was no place for a girl.

When I got older, I started running. I ran because someone said I was fat, because I was expected not to be what I was, because I was supposed to want boys to want me but they couldn’t if I was like this. I did not run on the trails I knew well, where the grass tickled my ankles and the ground underfoot was soft. I ran on the road where people could see me if I
needed help, where my parents could come get me when it was time to do the chores. I ran where I could measure just how far I was going, so I could fit onto a boy’s lap without hurting him.

On one particular day, the road stretched forever in front of me. Heat waves
rippled from the gravel, into the endless blue sky where the raging sun bore into my head. It struck me the road was part of a constructed world. And I realized that running further would not change the reasons why I was running on the road. So I stopped. And I walked home, but I stayed on the road because I did feel unsafe. I did feel I could not go where I wanted, though I couldn’t remember where that was.

Slowly, I felt for the piece of me that was missing. I started looking for it. I
read books about wild adventures that told me this female body was capable of great things. I rode bikes and played roller derby and started my own business and left the man who told me I had become too intimidating for him to love.

I found a river valley in the city with paths that felt impossibly familiar. I
started running again, following dirt trails that snaked below city maps. I learned this body I struggled so hard to confine was powerful. It would carry me through dark forests and onto windy peaks. I ventured safely into shady corners on mountainsides. Not only was I okay there, but it where I could grow, unconstructed.

I found the piece that would get lost in the wild, the part of me that would
find her own way home, was right where I had been told to leave her. And she was happy I’d come back.

Janel Lanphere

Winner of the Wonderland 2019 Woman’s Adventure Scholarship

Adventuring through remote and wild spaces has taken my life from a teenage abuse victim attempting to be small and invisible, to conquering my inner demons.  It has taught me the importance of play and the calm confidence of the flow state.

Growing up in a blue-collar family, the values taught to me included a perceived lack of opportunity, the need to work hard just to get by, and a negative association with play (play was for the rich).  Long hours at manual labor jobs with added DIY projects at home were common. With these values, I started working at 8 years old and have never stopped.

I started running in college and through the miles of pack running, sharing failures and success with sweat and tears, the comradery of the Cross-Country Team drew me out of my depression.  Slowly I started to see myself in a different light, as a person who could set an intention and live a little bigger. I moved across the country to Arizona where I didn’t know a soul and persevered when acclimating to high altitude running at 7000’.  I started running mountain races such as Imogene Pass Run and TransRockies Run. Each exploration removed fear and with increased success in problem solving, I started really believing in myself.

The personal growth continued upon meeting and marrying my husband, I now had the confidence to take the leap and become a wife and stepmother.  Together we explored remote areas of the Southwest such as Canyonlands National Park and I felt a new inner hum while staring at the night sky with no artificial light in sight.  I started seeking out more remote trails, running longer hours feeling the state of flow. Often alone, I explored more inaccessible locations and relished the hours playing. Longer hours on the trails required increased physical and mental strength.  General physical bad-assery doesn’t carry you by itself, we also need to control our minds. Often after many hours on the trail, when the body starts to break down, old demons would crawl to the surface and remind me of the small life from which I came.  Recently, when hopelessness set in at the start of a race, I pushed the demons away without any reason to be confidence.  My start at the 2018 Moab Trail Marathon found me badly nauseous from a prescription I stopped taking for the race. The nausea prevented me from eating my usual pre-race nutrition, I felt things were stacking against me.  When the nausea subsided at mile 11, I was so far back that I didn’t think I could compete. By accepting the situation, I broke through a mental barrier and ended the race 1st place woman in the Master’s Division of the USATF field.  Consequently, by adventuring in the remote and wild spaces in nature, I’ve been able to accept the remote and wild spaces in my mind.

Anna Brown

Winner of the Stehekin 2019 Women’s Adventure Scholarship

Whether it is through social conditioning that is deeply rooted in the norms of our culture or whether it perpetuated by the generational rituals of our families of origin, we learn from a young age our “place” in society. It’s a way for our collective brains to categorize individuals as part of our tribe and to “other” those who are not; evolutionarily speaking, this is how societies survived famines, wars, religious persecution, etc. My earliest memories of being “othered,” was in kindergarten. My family lived on the edge of the wealthiest school district in the city. We were working class. In addition, my mother was a large woman and did not look like the other moms. My fellow 6-year-olds would laugh at our old, ugly, yet reliable car, my gently used clothing, my made-with-love sack lunches, and my beautifully fat mother. It broke my young heart. I would experience this “othering” continually as a child, young adult, and even now – snide remarks on my weight, on my lack of wealth, on my family name, and on being a woman. This is part of the human condition; the price we pay for living in societal groups, but I believe woman experience some of the harshest forms of criticism; as such, we fade away, break, or develop unbending backbones. Personally, I am the latter; I learned how to be tough, independent, and resilient.

I once had a yoga teacher say to me that the goal of yoga was not to be perfect, but to breathe ourselves through the stuck spaces around our lives so that we could reveal our tender hearts hidden under layers of protective armor and to finally make peace with who we are. For me, an overheated studio with 50 strangers is not the place for me to find this type of vulnerable self-discovery; I would rather embark on this endeavor in the wilds the pacific northwest. Here is the thing about being tough, it serves a much-needed purpose in the moment of surviving, but it does little for building true strength and creating the vital connection we all need to live with meaning. In my experience, the most empowering thing I have done as a woman is to be vulnerable, to lay my heart bare for others, and to reach for the light of human connection. I could not have learned how to do this with others, if the mountain trail hadn’t first taught me how to do it with myself.

There is a raw honestly that one finds among the dusty July mountain paths of Eastern Washington – a truth that is realized once you force yourself to breathe in deeply the smell of hot pine needles. There is a feeling of connectedness and belonging that one can only get from standing alone on an alpine mountain top in October while looking at the newly turned colors of the larch blazing like wildfire below. Getting to these places require something more than physical strength and sheer will. It requires the ability to find those supposed human weaknesses that many women have buried deeply – vulnerability, reliance on others, and ultimately, self-love. I have experienced the depth and breadth of human emotion on the mountain trail; I once screamed until my throat was sore because of sheer panic at basecamp in the Pasayten Wilderness; I have cried the heaving sobs of grief on the hardpacked earth of an ultra-race course on the high-desert outside of Ellensburg; I have shared in the side-splitting laughter that comes after sheer exhaustion with other women under the shadow of the Sawtooth range; and, I have stood in stunning awe looking down at the mist shrouded valleys on a mountaintop in the North Cascades. For me, the most empowering experience I have had and continue to have in nature, is giving in to my need to be connected to this earth and others; I have to breathe into those spaces of vulnerability, and in doing so, I am learning to live a life of meaning, and not just survival.

Press for the Upcoming North Cascades Fall Trail Running Festival and Symposium


By Oliver Lazenby at the Mt. Baker Experience

As trail running festivals continue to pop up almost everywhere, the North Cascades is the latest to join the fun. The first North Cascades Fall Trail Running Festival and Symposium – or Festival 542, if you’re into brevity – will take place from September 12 to 16 at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway.

Hosted by Aspire Adventure Running, the festival offers three days and four nights of organized and informal runs, local food and nightly educational programming from a base camp surrounded by trails – the Mountaineers club’s Mt. Baker Lodge.

Abram Dickerson, founder of Aspire, is working out out the logistics and safety net for the festival. At $600 a spot, the festival isn’t cheap, but attendees should have nothing to worry about but running in the forests and meadows of the North Cascades once they arrive.

“What we’re imagining is that we’ll bring people together in the evenings, and during the day there’s a whole variety of runs that a person can do from base camp,” Dickerson said. Aspire will also run a shuttle bus to other trailheads on the Mt. Baker Highway.

Meals made from seasonal, local ingredients will bookend each day, and light food will be provided on the trails. The company is lining up naturalists, historians, athletes and archaeologists for educational talks and discussions in the evenings.

Dickerson hopes the festival will strengthen the local trail running community by offering runners an opportunity to form relationships.


“I’ve found from races that there’s people who identify as trail runners who come out to trail races but it takes a long time for them, especially if they’re new, to make connections,” he said. “Those connections are one of the great things about the trail running community yet forming those connection takes time.”

The festival affords more time – and downtime – for fostering those connections. Dickerson’s seen the impact of time on relationships through his business; on multiday trips, people tend to leave as friends.

Aspire was started in 2015 to guide trail running trips and has fine-tuned what makes a trip successful, Dickerson said. One of the most important factors is location, and that knowledge informed his choice of base camp for Festival 542.

“We’re really selective in terms of the courses we pick,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to be able to work with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to operate in the North Cascades.”

Though this is the festival’s first year, Dickerson is already looking to the future.

“We’re hoping this will be a placeholder event in the regional trail running scene,” he said. “There’s just no better time to be on the trails than in the fall. Huckleberries are ripe, the mountains are dusted in snow, the temperatures are crisp and cool but yet it can still be sunny.”

To sign up or learn more, go to

Three of the best days of my life.

I ran in 2016. Three of the best days of my life. The Wonderland Circumnavigation is like being dropped into a roaming gypsy mountain family for three days of exertion, love, and self renewal. I’m an old doughy slow untalented back of the packer, the most underwhelming thing to happen on two legs really. The Aspire crew and other runners rallied around me (and each other for that matter) as if I were some rock star. They wanted me to finish as much as I wanted me to finish. Zero ego contamination during the experience. Everyone that the mountain meets one where one is at, and that everyone is getting broken down and reborn. I’ve signed up again for 2018.

Thanks Sean…see you August 2018.

Longmire to Mowich Lake

Taking the opportunity to run the Longmire to Mowich Lake segment of Mt. Rainer’s famed Wonderland Trail with Aspire Adventure Running was such a great decision and elevated my running experience to a whole new level that is hard to match when just out running on my own, which is my typical go-to for such an adventure.

Instead of spending more time prepping than actually running – gathering trail and camp site permits, food, supplies, coordinating drop-off and pick-up rides, etc. – it was all handled for me.  I was able to simply grab my normal running kit and a couple personal items after work on a Friday, show up at the designated rendezvous point and have every detail taken care of. I was able to focus on soaking up every last breath-taking view of one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier hiking / running trails—all of the joy and little to none of the “other stuff” that goes into pulling off an epic day of trail running.

As an added bonus, my wife and our 18-month old son were welcomed along on the pre and post portions of the trip for a nominal fee to enjoy all the gourmet-quality (not kidding!!) food, camaraderie and logistical support of “my” big adventure.  Ultra running can be a somewhat selfish pursuit at times, but even though my wife was along for the ride, the Aspire team made sure her experience was unforgettable. They coordinated her hike in the final mile at Mowich to meet me so she had photo ops on the trail.  It was well deserved payback for the woman who has crewed, dropped me off / picked me and kept me fed on plenty a mountain run.

With every trail course Aspire offers dishing up a gourmet, bucket-list running adventure, I am positive we’ll be a repeat customers. In fact, my wife thought it was so great that she thinks it might be something “I” should do every year (just so long as she can come along…)!