[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
It's a Saturday morning, and as I do most Saturday mornings, I'm up hours before sunrise. All my running gear is packed and ready to go, so all I have to do is get dressed, brush my teeth, and pour a cup of coffee for the car ride. I'm going to a mountain where I do a *lot* of my training. Mount Wilson sits on the outskirts of Los Angeles and peaks at around 5,700 feet. It's 7 miles to the summit and I'll gain about 5,000 feet of elevation on the way. The trail starts and ends in Sierra Madre, a quiet suburban city in Los Angeles county best known for it's proximity to the mountains. Nearly 20 percent of residents are over 65 and a single family home will cost you over a million dollars.
I've been running up Mount Wilson a long time, back before Chantry Flats was closed due to wildfires. Like many who live in Sierra Madre or frequent the nearby foothills, I've seen plenty of bears, all of them unconcerned with my presence. I've run up Mount Wilson in snow, in rain, in boiling hot sun, with friends and alone. Because Mount Wilson isn't very tall, it's accessible year-round, and in the winter, there can be a foot of snow on the summit one weekend that disappears by the next. Once, I was followed by a strange man as I ran down the road from the summit to another set of trails. And another time, I called for help when a different man fell and hurt his knee. Still another time, I made friends with another runner and we completed the second half of our run together. The mountains are beautiful and dangerous and thrilling. We can love them in the same breath that we curse them, like an inattentive lover who every so often, holds your hand.
A more immediate reason myself, and many others, love the mountains is because climbing any mountain is never easy. The first time I reached the top of Mount Wilson, I hiked the entire thing. I was new to California and new to climbing mountains, so summiting felt daring. I hadn't gotten lost. My legs hadn't failed me. I could do hard things. Shortly after I started trail running, I began training in the mountains, too. Days after a mountain run, my legs would feel heavy and sore. Growing pains, I thought.
Now, I can run up Mount Wilson without thinking twice, with the muscle memory that only comes with repetition. I know where all the steep sections are, where the rocky sections are, how far it is from one waypoint to the next. And today, when I get back to my car, it has been less than three and a half hours since I started. My legs will not be sore tomorrow, and it was not a struggle to get to the summit. Sometimes it is hard to see how far you've come without looking back to see where you started. Progress and strength are built slowly, and incremental progress can be hard to notice.
I'm on the cusp of releasing another book of poetry, and through many hours of writing, editing, revising, and reviewing, I've had plenty of time to compare this book with my last. From my point of view, my new book far exceeds the last in terms of quality and acuity. Without the first, there can be no second. Without producing something, I could not produce something better.
The lesson that is easy to hear but hard to hold is that progress can never be rushed. Overnight sensations don't truly exist because nobody sees the years of work it takes to become successful, we only see the success.
I have failed enough to know that success is usually not born out of sheer dumb luck, either. It's more likely the perfect concoction of time, place, talent, and persistence. Not every day is a mountain summit, either. Some days require rest, and some days necessitate little, but doing a little is far better than doing nothing. If you read one page of a book every day, you'd probably read one book a year. But if you never picked up a book in the first place, well you may never read anything.
The mountain was perfect today, and autumn is showing it's edges. Leaves are starting to yellow and the sky remained an imposing grey. The stream that flowed heavily all spring is down to a small, slow trickle. My favorite thing about fall is how easily everything gets quiet. There is no need to rush into winter, but no need to fight it, either.
In two weeks, I'll run a 100 miler in Big Bear, CA. When I first moved here, I could barely breathe in the mountains, much less run. I've spent countless hours over the past couple of years training my body, climbing mountains, running, lifting, resting, and slowly getting stronger. Progress, at some point, becomes undeniable. When people ask what I'm training for, I usually have a race on the calendar, but the race doesn't even really matter. There is nothing I need to train for, and no accolade as powerful as feeling how strong I've become.