Having just finished a run, I am sitting here back at the trailhead with a folding chair propped on the dusty ground behind my Jeep. After a long run in years past, it seems I’d be craving some Jetboiled apple cider at this time of year. This year, I’m crunching on half melted ice cubes from my cooler and chugging water, wondering how long the drops in the jug are going to last. As I gaze back toward the mountain to reminisce on the route, I squint to try to pick out the details as much of the landscape is covered in a veil of smoke. My sore stomach corroborates the existence of the smoke, irritated from breathing it in for the past few hours.
“No, not yet!” I yelled, half laughing, as orange leaves fall from the aspen and scatter across the ground. Each year, autumn seems to pass too soon. It is my absolute favorite time of year to get out and run. With each passing hour, a new palette of colors paints the landscape. The leaves themselves seem to have a smell; a dry, earthy, sweet pollen kind of scent; peaceful and nostalgic. My mind wanders as I take in all the changes of the season.
My friend friend runs just behind me as the trail switchbacks down through a rocky forest. I put my legs in neutral and let the gravity pull me along. As we hurdle rocks and bound off from others, shouts of joy and elation blend with the sounds of leaves scattering on the ground with a gentle breeze. Miles of horizon reveals itself as we make our way a rock outcropping. As we slow to catch our breath and take care to watch our steps on the narrowing terrain, she says “B, you’ve got this fire when you run. It’s contagious. Don’t ever let it go out.”
I can’t deny that running is one of the hottest burning fires within me. This time of year, it is especially evident, sometimes to the detriment of other things. The freedom to roam through nature grabs hold of me, writing back-to-back days of travel and adventure into my personal schedule. At my core, I know it is a decision I make though. Every mile is the result of thousands of decisions; of questions and near immediate answers. Should I take this next step or turn around? Should I conserve energy or let it rip? Should I take the ridge or the valley? The combination of these miles and decisions has shaped who I am, and with a bit of luck, I hope it will continue to for years.
I know I’m not the only one who’s flame burns for those places. Those places where jagged silhouettes meet a red sky horizon, where the water from the mountainside tastes like it is just a bit closer to the heavens than that at home, where you can listen to the flowers grow all day long, uninterrupted from the sounds to civilization, where the sunrise and sunset is strung together by a maze of footprints. Those places are a gift, and a fragile one at that. We cherish those places for the friendships, communities, achievements, and lessons they provide.
Thank you to all the firefighters who have been chasing fires, allowing our communities to continue to chase theirs. Through much different decisions and much different miles, they have committed to keeping these places and our communities safe. For much of the summer, the smoke has ebbed and flowed through the mountains, limiting if not completely obstructing the views. It has been one of the hottest summers I can remember. With near-record temperatures came near-record acreage burned from wildfires here in Colorado and across the western states. As of Labor Day 2018, there were over two million acres of active wildfires across the country. Roughly half a million acres of that was one of many fires in California, and there was about one hundred thousand acres in one of many fires in Colorado. 22,500 firefighters chased the fires, working tirelessly to protect the places we play in and call home. With each run through the mountains, I am reminded of the work these men and women put forth, and the sacrifices they have made working hours and weeks on end.
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