I have never traveled through Europe. When I was 17 my mother and I flew into France for two weeks and did the Paris thing. Cigarettes and cafes and sightseeing. I never went back as an adult, mainly for not really having a reason to go. I am a terrible tourist. I don't like going to look at things. To me western Europe always embodied this sort of travel, getting shuttled around on trains and buses, going from one popular destination to the next, taking photos, eating cheeses, drinking wine, spending money.
I started traveling when I was 19 years old. From the very beginning I was always attracted to the more exotic places in this world. I certainly didn't have anything against Europe, its just too similar to the US, it's still western culture. I wanted to go to the '3rd World'. That place not seen on PBS specials or in Frommer's guide books. I wanted to see dark and uncomfortable places, get pick-pocketed, be tested. Europe is where you go to vacation, relax. I've never wanted to do either of those.
I spent years traveling around to parts of the world that fascinated me. At 19 years old I flew to India. Got my first real taste of a different culture. Found my way to Nepal and snuck and hitchhiked through Tibet. My first Latin American trip a year later with friends from AZ. During college I traveled extensively around the Rockey west, spending 4 weeks in the winter and 3 months of every summer out hitchhiking, lugging around backpacks full of climbing gear, Colorado, Nevada Wyoming, Washington, Montana, Oregon. It was on one of these trips where I was picked up by my friend Gib who owned and worked a horse ranch on the Canadian border, a spot I would return to every summer for some work and idealistic existing. These western American hitchhiking trips, which encompassed some three years of my life, countless trips, countless experiences, countless stories, have unfortunately and inevitably blurred together in what feels like a singular experience, a singular friend made, a single mountain climbed.
When college ended, I found myself with an open window. An opportunity to leave and not have a date I needed to be back. I graduated Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona with a duel major in Biology and Chemistry. Quite literally the morning after graduating, I hopped on a one way flight to Buenos Aries, Argentina, and began making my way to Patagonia, La Tierra Del Fuego, and a land that has since stuck as one of the most breathtaking and magical places in the world, southern Chile. I spent the next part of my life busing, bicycling, hitchhiking, working, hiking, climbing my way back to Arizona, en route to some of my most cherished experiences and memories.
When the dust finally settled I found myself back in my hometown of Prescott, AZ. Within a week or two a job opportunity at the community college manifested, and a few months later I bought the property that I now currently live and work on. The last few years have been some of the most static of my life, working my property, and spending my summers traveling and seasonal working gigs in the mountains. Countless Mexico trips, Canadian Rockies, and motorcycle trips, but nothing overseas in a few years. It wasn't until the promise of the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc, did I begin thinking of another overseas trip, and finally the reason I had hitherto lacked to finally venture towards Europe. Finally, after a decade of traveling, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather spend my summer, than Europe.
I'm still relatively new to this whole running thing. To be perfectly honest I still feel apprehensive about even calling myself a runner. So I was as surprised as anybody to find out that the reason I would have to finally go to Europe would be racing. When I applied to UTMB, I actually didn't think I was going to get in. I figured I would throw my name into the lottery, and get my odds increasing for following years. A strategy that many of my fellow runners use towards Western States or Hardrock.
It was around this time that I had also been communicating and working on an interview with Abel Noe Rodriguez, founder of Ultra Life Team, http://www.ultralifeteam.com/, an online trail running community in Spain. After we found out that UTMB was happening, Abel and I began discussing opportunities of racing in Spain earlier in the summer. This quickly grew into an entire summer of racing in Europe, including what will be my most difficult race to date, Ehunmilak.
Ehunmilak. 100 miles. 36,000' of ascent. Basque Country. Western Pyrenees. Hardrock Qualifier.
EhunMilak, el viaje de las 100 millas. from Ornitorrinco Collective on Vimeo.
Although I'm biased towards the mountains, check out some of these other areas we run through on the route...Ehunmilak Meet Our Environment
To be honest I'm not completely sure how to prepare myself for this race. It will be by far the hardest run of my life, and I feel a bit like I am running my first ultra. I think a highly undervalued and unspoken trait of ultra runners is the ability to withstand and overcome moments that they have had no preparation for. During moments of inexperience and insecurity, they are able to overcome, push through, figure it out and keep going.
If I can say that I am good at anything when it comes to ultras, I would like to believe that it is this side of things. I am not the most gifted athlete, I am not the strongest or the fastest, I am often times the most inexperienced runner near the front. I'm a terrible trainer and eat a mediocre at best diet. But I can keep going. I can keep running and moving under desperate conditions. Simply put, I can suffer.
One thing I love most about my time running, are the places it literally takes me. Western Pyranees. Basque Country. Southern France. The Pyranees offer a chance at authentic European culture, underdeveloped, cultural mountain towns. I love that what brings me into these unexplored, unknown regions are initially races, and always grow into something much more, in this case, a summer based in and around Spain. A quick google search brings up this.
As of this writing, I have one more week before I venture overseas. Flight scheduling 'recommended' I fly into and out of Oslo, Norway. I took the bait and will be heading to Europe a few weeks before Ehunmilak in order to explore Norway and most likely over do it in preparation for the race. The plan is to find a cheap motorcycle and spend my days traveling on that. I reckon I can't think of a better way to travel through Europe, just don't tell Frank.
Its also worth noting that approximately 5 days ago my Uncle Joe from Texas came to visit and help wire up the cabin I have been building the last 6 months. Needless to say I drank a bottle of tequila and decided to herd a stampede of cattle on my motorcycle (pretty standard for an Uncle Joe visit). SOMEHOW I crashed and smashed up my right foot and ankle. The severity of the injury remains a bit of a mystery as my talent for herding cattle on Frank is exceeded only by my stubbornness to not go to the doctor. Given I nearly cut off my finger last month, and now crashed on Frank, I was recently told that I am 'injury prone.' I laughed and agreed and walked away. Later I was thinking to myself that it's not necessarily being 'injury prone' if you drink a bottle of tequila and stampede cattle on your motorcycle and crash. Its just what is going to happen.
To me running is an amazing part of my life. But it is exactly that. One part of many amazing things that I get experience. I watch many athletes around be become obsessed, where running begins to dictate other aspects of their lives in a negative manner. Running to me exists in addition to the life I already live, and by no means defines me. I never want to catch myself saying that I can't, or won't do something because 'I'm training' or 'I have a race.' Living life to the fullest comes first, and when running adds to the adventure, it can be a beautiful thing.
I hope that this summer's races do exactly that, add to my adventures and I can continue to experience and live life to the fullest between the races. Given the locations (Norway, Spain, Pais Basco, France, Switzerland, Italy) and people I will be surrounded by (Abel, Ehunmilak crew, Desafio Somiedo crew, UTMB crew, European friends, American friends), I am filled with confidence that this summer will be one of my finest. Moving forward, I can only hope and trust that my body will respond accordingly, and I'll be ready to toe the line in 4 weeks at Ehunmilak in Pais Vasco.