Metaphorical Musings from the Sawtooth Backcountry

Last year Aspire gave away 3 Women’s Adventure Scholarships, a place on each of our 3 women’s trips. Each winner agreed to write and reflect on their experience and personal journey. Bobbi was selected as the winner for our Sawtooth Backcountry trip. Read her winning essay here.

2019 Sawtooth Backountry Women's Trip

Running is a nearly universal experience. Whether it was playing tag in elementary school, knocking out 5km for a charity or chasing after the bus this morning, most of us have run at least a few steps in our lives.

This universality is also why running makes a good metaphor: many people have some familiarity with what it feels like to run, whether or not they like it. I completed the Sawtooth Backcountry Women’s Retreat with Aspire as the culmination of a year of pushing through mental and medical barriers. Fittingly, Sawtooth was rife with metaphorical opportunities. Here are my top three musings from a long, challenging and totally gratifying journey:

We’re all in this together. I consider running a solitary endeavor and it indulges my introverted insecurities. Alone, I cannot compare my perceived weaknesses to others. Although I signed up for a group running trip with Aspire, I did so to feel comfort in a new landscape, without the obligation of running with others. 

However, a few days prior to the trip Abram sent us a message: the trail would be snow covered and to stay safe, we would need to stay together. Alarm bells screamed through my head. I would frantically try to keep up, then I’d bonk, and everyone would be annoyed with me.

Instead, our guide gave us the lead and together, we settled into a pace to manage the challenging terrain. We commiserated together through  miles of frozen post-hole footsteps from a previous hiker, and skidded down an icy luge a dirt bike had left on the trail. Many times I swore as I caught myself from falling on my butt. Yet in hearing others’ near misses, I realized this was as difficult for them as it was for me. And somehow, that made it better. Had I been alone, I would have thrown down my poles in a tantrum and walked out of there. Instead, after a comical eternity, we were back on dirt and elated, laughing at what a disaster we’d just ran through.

One step at a time. There’s no greater truth while running long distances. You can stand still and stay where you are, or you can take one more step and get a little closer to where you’re going. Because of the snow we rerouted to another trail and had planned on a shuttle to get back to camp. Later during the day, we opted to cancel the shuttle and just run back to camp. We weren’t sure how far from camp we were, but it seemed close

The road descended out of the subalpine for not two or three, but seven unexpected miles. This was the furthest several of us had ever run, and without the comfort of camp in sight, we’d have to keep running. My legs were rubber and the naysayers in my head yelled at me to stop. But as the sun disappeared behind the mountain, cool shadow drifted over my shoulders, and we kept moving. The world suddenly felt very simple. I could keep running, or I could stay right where I was. I could push through this challenge, or give up and have someone come save me. Without a word, we chose to keep moving. And eventually, inevitably, we returned to camp. Cheers from the crew, copious salty snacks and a warm fire greeted us. I was exhausted, but with an unexpected confidence in what my body was capable of doing. I’d run the furthest of my life simply by taking another step.

Where there’s pain, there’s growth. The first time I ever went running, I managed to go about 200 metres. It was the longest I had ever run at once. And it hurt like hell. I was crying and sweating and full of agony. I had wanted to run beyond the horizon, so I vowed to keep running those 200 until I could run 400. Then it was a mile. When I ran my first marathon, I almost didn’t toe the line because that would be the furthest ever. Four kilometres from the finish line, when I could barely muster the next step, a woman near me kept repeating, “Anyone can run 4km.” I knew I could do that, so I did. Running my first ultra, I thought I would die after a bad reaction to caffeine and poor nutrition. But I somehow made it and now I was running in the Backcountry of the Sawtooth mountains. In every pain cave is an opportunity to get stronger.

My weekend at the  Sawtooth Women’s Retreatwas the furthest I’d ever run, with people I’d never met and beyond any comfort level I’d encountered. I’m more comfortable and confident with discomfort… And the journey is just getting started.