Wilderness: The Pathway to Community and Connection

Instead of emphasizing competition and comparison, Aspire seeks to create space for community and connection by running– not racing– in the world’s most spectacular landscapes.

“I want to run there.”

That’s how it begins, and it’s almost too obvious. What trail-loving runner wouldn’t want to lace up for miles of single track through Mt. Rainier, Yosemite, or the North Cascades? But location alone is not the whole story. The real depth, meaning, and enduring quality of mountain time comes from sharing the experience with others. How that happens matters. Our trips draw an audience of runners from across the country. Chances are high you’ll be good friends with these folks by the end of the week, but it doesn’t happen by accident. Here are five ways that we build our community with intention.

Two women prep gear for their run ahead.

No Competition

Aspire trips aren’t races. We don’t track times, publish results, or adhere to any competitive traditions. This is intentional. No timing means runners are free to literally smell the flowers, jump in the lake, pause for lunch, and simply allow for the experience of being immersed in nature. 

When people aren’t racing each other, it creates a fundamentally different relational dynamic. Without any underlying questions of “Who will come in first?” or “Will I be faster than this person?” there’s simply more space to engage with people as fellow souls sojourning into the wilderness. People aren’t there to be beaten, but to connect with, to learn from, to support when they struggle, and to receive encouragement from when you inevitably need it. Each blister taped, supportive smile shared, distracting story told, and meaningful connection made weaves the thread of community. 

The Wonderland Circumnavigation was 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.

Sean- Seattle, WA

Food, Really Good Food

After 10, 20, or 30 miles in the mountains, it’s time for real food. Bars, gels, and hydration powders have come a long way in the past few decades, but even the most scrumptious of trail foods can’t compete with a fresh grilled salmon, garlic roasted potatoes, and a steaming dutch oven cobbler.

Thick french toast with fresh strawberries and blueberries, topped with whipped cream.

Meal time isn’t just about replenishing the body. It is a soulful celebration where each runner gathers to recount the day’s adventure, highlights from the trail, and to laugh at the pain and suffering that only a few hours ago had you questioning the sanity of any running-related decision. No one will understand your experience better than the dozen or so other runners gathered around the table, whose legs are just as sore as yours. 

Time- Multiple Days Worth

It’s great to go for a run before or after work or to dedicate a morning or even a whole day to a race. These kinds of runs fit neatly into the calendar and can be easily balanced with life’s other obligations.

It’s another thing entirely to dedicate a week to a running project. Unplugged from the rest of the world, each day on the trail has a specific purpose. To run, move, hike, crawl, doing whatever is necessary to cover the miles. The simplicity and immediacy of purpose is refreshing, empowering, and rewarding.

On our trips this singular purpose is shared with newfound friends who, unlike some of your colleagues back home, get it. They share in your success and suffering, they wear the same short shorts and funky vests, they speak the language of salt, sweat, suffering, recovery, and accomplishment. Within the short span of a few days and some very long miles, these people become your tribe, your family. The specifics of the trail will fade, injuries will heal, but shared camaraderie built over days on the trail will persist in memory’s most meaningful depths. 

A group gathers around camp, lounging after a long day.

Destination: Wilderness

The wilderness is a timeless space separated from the cares and constraints of our deadlines and deliverables. Dedicated to the preservation of an ideal and to the protection of natural processes, wilderness areas are sanctuaries. Here life follows nature’s rhythm and humankind are visitors who travel through these mysterious lands seeking adventure, inspiration, and wisdom. Whatever face nature reveals–sun or snow, rain or wind, forest or desert–wonder and beauty are gifts these lands bestow. 

I came to run and see the mountains. I left feeling like a part of something bigger than the mountains, family.

Ryan- Tillamook, OR

No man or woman ever conquers a trail, a mountain, or any feature of the landscape. Wilderness is an opportunity to experience with and through the land a greater understanding of our fragility, our limits, and our connection to the world.  Sharing in the struggle, adventure, and beauty of the wilderness is the substance of deep relationships. Seeing the smiling faces of friends reaching a summit after trudging up the same switchbacks reflects and amplifies our own joy of being in that wild place. Witnessing the beauty together binds people as stewards and protectors of these spaces. 

A woman and a man laughing while sitting in camp chairs.

It’s a deep kind of experience, to leave behind the ego, to get beat up and broken down by the trail, and to share that experience with others. The mountain shows us where we are weak and our friends can remind us where we are strong. It’s a process of building connections and community. It’s what drives the whole Aspire experience.