I wasn’t thinking of anything when I turned and saw the sun brimming at the horizon. I didn’t need to think, I needed to move – the end was close. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I wouldn’t make it, just whether I would summit before sunrise vanished. The stars to the north were quickly dimming and I welcomed the beginning of the end as I secured my foothold into the ice for my final ascent.
Despite the giddiness and adrenaline that took over for the final 500 meters I couldn’t fathom the world was best experienced placing one foot in front of another; I was too absorbed to believe in much of anything beyond the narrow present. But as I watched the sun reach across Africa’s sole glacial field, something changed. Purple stole into red and violent orange swayed to yellow and I promised I would climb, scramble and claw; I would keep the sunrise. The raw perspective of those four days and three vertical miles wedged something in me; prodded me towards my first marathon and I haven’t looked back.
The beauty of running is that you discover the world one mile at a time. The minutes and hours unfold in ways that edges every part of your body towards an awareness that continuously redefines your surroundings. Rolling fields and windswept beaches have said more to me than anyone I’ve ever heard speak. I trample in a trance; hypnotized by a feeling I can only describe as pure freedom.
Since stumbling upon this realization I’ve seen more than I ever imagined; I ran beneath Iceland’s midnight sun, over Boston’s loping hills, rubber-necked across the Bixby Canyon Bridge and a hundred other places – each time understanding everything within shouting distance is related. How or why doesn’t quite matter. I just know it rises to meet me every day I leave the house and surrender to my senses.
Head up, eyes open – no music, no phone, no money just my primal urge to move. Everywhere I go has the possibility of becoming another Kilimanjaro. At the peak I understood where I needed to go but until I ran I didn’t know how to get there. During those moments surveying the stragglers making the final push towards the acme I couldn’t imagine the world’s largesse. They came from every corner of the globe, lurching towards the same goal and until I stood in a marathon corral I didn’t know whether I would see that strange unity again.
Running makes the world smaller. Some summer mornings I forget that the humid Chicago morning isn’t St. Simon’s Island or a misty spring afternoon isn’t just steps away from a winter run in the Peruvian Andes – each run brings me closer to the places I haven’t thought about in years, or ever. The miles chip away at something greater than travel or reflection – they make me wonder what’s happened since I was there. I think about going back and scaling the red sand trails beneath the towering Rockies or passing along the river bottoms sidled against the roaring Mississippi. I won’t get back to them all, and I don’t want to. I want to see new places, accumulate experiences beyond the finish line; after all, the line is only one end and I learned after the Uhuru peak that the hardest part of a trip is getting back to flat land.
All the beauty and simplicity frittered away with the hard light of day. The path defrosted and became a ridge of loose gravel shaking away my sunrise leaving me to wonder if it was all a dream. But after seven years chasing down rises and ridgelines I know it’s out there, not only on a mountaintop but in every positive step towards discovering something grander than myself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Palmer: I am a high school teacher looking to break into the publishing world. I keep busy with training for marathons and hiking. If you liked Tanzania: Freedom in Motion there is a link to my published story: The Moonshiner.