My brain is signaling the legs to move forward like an arrow from a bow. But why does it feel like the world is violating Newton’s third law of motion by not giving equal reaction to my onward action? I am yet to cover a yard. Move. Faster. Nothing. All my effort simply vanishes into thin air. A salty drop of sweat pierces my eyes. Suddenly my eyes are wide open. I am staring at the window, which opens to the void. It’s been barely thirty minutes since I fell asleep. Wasn’t sleep supposed to be easy? People complain about fatigue after getting seven hours of sound sleep. Here I am. Thirty minutes sleep with an absurd recurring dream, and still, my body ceases to function. Only my mind and eyes whine.
I used to be the fastest runner in high school. Friends called me f—ing horse. Yet, I can’t even run a yard in the recurring dream. But aren’t dreams supposed to be full of possibilities? What am I running away from? Exam report cards. Bruised hands from teachers pointy thin stick. That awful bike accident. Soccer game we lost. Tears. Responsibilities. Love. Friends. Family. Fear. Yes! What do I fear? Being old. Not able to walk. Losing independence. Prospects of happiness and peace. No, it’s time. Peoples, rivers, and the wind is picking up pace. I fear if my speed is not enough to catch them. I fear I am wasting my time. I am not productive enough to make it to the publishing deadline. This is what I am running away from. Publish or perish. The article submission deadline is one week away. Neither do I have concrete results nor a coherent story to fool the reviewers. Neither I sleep peacefully, nor I work blazingly. I am stuck in limbo.
He is undoubtedly dead. I could see his body tumbling down the exposed face. After few seconds, his body to my tearful eyes was no bigger than a lone star in the night sky. The monstrous flare from the Lake Blanche was no match to the tiny flicker of that star. I lost sight of him. Our dream to complete the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup (WURL) came to an end. The next thing I remember is that I was beside him. I glanced over my legs and arms to check signs of injury. There was none. The only explanation for me to reach him without tumbling down the face is evident that my body was taken hostage by a mountain goat’s ghost. It is only the possible explanation for that miracle to happen; me to get to where his body was.
Again my eyes are wide awake. The dark void is still there outside my window. The slight breeze outside trickles the leaves. I listen to the chattering noise. I hear the generous invitation from the mountains. Wasatch mountains whisper. “You can run. Don’t run away. Run towards me. Catch the first rays of the brightest star in the sky”. The trailhead is abandoned. I am a ghost. The bite from the chilly wind running across my ears signals that I am alive. I am disrupting the peaceful sleep of countless birds, squirrels, rabbits, cougars, bears, foxes, and ants. This is totally true as it is just 3 am. Though I like to believe that the bears and mountain lions are in a coma. Hopefully, they are indifferent to encroaching and trespassing of their marked land with a gleaming headlamp.
Within fifteen minutes of trail running, my calf started to get sore. Professional trail runners train for months, if not years, to try this majestic WURL trip. They wear exquisite branded running shoes coupled with fancy hydration vets. Their innate goal is not to trail run but to run showmanship with their social media accounts. They don’t care about the bulging thunderclouds on the horizon but elapsed time on their apple watch. Most of them are not running to run but to run on the sponsors. And here I am without enough sleep or training to attempt this monstrosity with my 65L Deuter backpacking rucksack. The goal for me can’t be measured in time or social currency. The share volume of questions that I need answers to is only the accurate measure of my goal. Completing WURL is not the goal. Finding resolutions to my endless questions is. The pain in the calf reminds me that I was indeed successful in finding the keys to one question a week back.
Good things come in threes. That the perfect summary of the `triple traverse` route I attempted a week back in one of those sleepless nights. It is a famous exposed class 4 route to visit the summit of three prominent peaks (Broads Fork Twin Peak, Sunrise Peak, and Dromedary peak) in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Class 1 is simply walking an established flat easy trail for those unfamiliar with climbing ratings. Any track that comes to your mind right now is probably class 1. Class 2 is mostly hiking a steep incline route that might require scrambling using hands. The upper sections of the trail on Mount Timpanogos can be considered class 2. Class 3 and 4 primarily differ on the number of exposed areas with short or long fall very likely. A fall from a class 4 route could easily cause severe injuries or even death. Class 5 usually rope and gears are used, and these classes are used to categorize technical rock climbs. A fall from class 5 is certain death. The popular Owen-Spalding route in the Grand Teton is for sure a class 5 climb.
Broads Fork Twin Peak, Sunrise Peak, and Dromedary peaks highlighted the sky. Those mountains gripped my mind when I viewed them from Red Pine lakes on one beautiful Saturday morning. They literally stood out from the rest of the mountain range. This mesmerizing picture of the Triple traverse route is still crystal clear in my head. Also, the questions I asked myself, “Is it possible to simultaneously love nature and be in peace with the mundane weekdays”? I found the answers after reading about the triple traverse route along with WURL. Triple Traverse is only a tiny section in the grand scheme of WURL, including Bullion Divide Traverse, Upper Bells Canyon Traverse, and others. WURL is the brainchild of the local Utah legend Jared Campbell. He is in record books of Barkley Marathons, Hardrock 100, Nolan’s 14, and more for the right reasons.
The most unusual fact about him is that he is not a sponsored athlete but a full-time engineer, husband, and father. He first completed the WURL on a sunny July day back in 2004 but not sure how long he trained and dreamed about doing WURL. That route didn’t see any repeat for more than five years when Nic Berry completed it in 17 hrs in 2009. Till mid-august 2019, only 50 people had complete the route. But within a year, more than 84 people completed that route. With the spring/summer months of 2020, 67 trail runners completed it, making this route a fairly popular escape during the pandemic quarantine. Jared Campbell himself says, “WURL mainly consists of scrambling, boulder hopping, and a few rugged trails. It is approximately 36 miles long with around 18k ft of elevation gain”. A lesser-known fact about WURL is that Alex Honnold, the oscar-winning athlete of the Freesolo movie, completed it in the summer of 2015.
One hour has passed. I am still following the trail shaped by the river. Except small spotlight create from my headlamp, its pitch dark. I wonder there are living souls who won’t get scared with the darkness surrounding you from everywhere. I passed a couple of switchbacks. The forest is getting dense. The calm music from the river is fading. My ears are still longing for the music. My whole body is attentive. The millions of murmurs in my head are getting less crowded. I am feeling at ease with the darkness within and outside me. I wish the headlamp could also shine light into the abyss inside. Few intense purple ribbons are glowing like a radioactive chemical 50 feet away. As I move, closer I realize those are not ribbons. Those are eyes. They are intense and filled with stars. After I moved few feet forwards, I instantly recognized. They were the secretive second-largest cat in the New World after the jaguar: Cougars. I know they saw me. I could see the change of color in their eyes. Both of them stood up. There was a pin drop silence inside my head. All worries, fear, and pain evaporated instantly. There was this silence never heard of. Maybe this is what nirvana means.