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June 25, 2019

Trying to Find the ‘Why’ in 100 Miles

Five of us were sitting at the trailhead of North Kaibab in Grand Canyon National Park, being told we were liars. Frankly, I can’t blame the elderly gentleman (who I will now call Dan) questioning our collective moral compass. We lacked the usual associated garb of the intrepid canyoneer: no hiking poles, no hiking boots, and none of those dang convertible pants. Our handheld water bottles, running shoes and lack of convertible pants were causing a bit of a stir.

At the heart of the issue for Dan was our insistence that we had started our day, four hours earlier, at the South Kaibab trailhead — 21 miles and 11,000-feet of elevation change away from where we stood now, questioning if maybe we didn’t actually just run rim-to-rim and Dan was right about us being a bunch of liars.

“No you’re not,” Dan said when one of us let him know we had to get back to the south rim of the Grand Canyon because that’s where the car was parked. That’s what people do: people always get back to their parked car, Dan. 

The idea of running rim-to-rim-to-rim was enough to make Dan not even consider the possibility of its plausibility. It is not, of course, a rare occurrence. People run, hike, walk, wander the route all the time but Dan was having to do some mental gymnastics to welcome into his life the idea of five guys running rim-to-rim-to-rim in one day, and seemingly ecstatic to be doing it.

Stephen Kersh Coconino Cowboys Western States 2019

While I don’t necessarily live to impress the Dans of the world, as we descended into the canyon en route for our parked car, I did think about how running is a fantastic way to totally warp someone’s preconceived notions of what’s possible. It’s enlightening to not do what you’re supposed to do.

This was all to say….I’m signed up to run 100 miles on Saturday. Don’t tell Dan about Western States. I’m sure it will piss him off. 

Once I quell the concerns of what I will eat and how long it will take, acquaintances usually ask me, “Why?” 

It is an incredibly equitable question given the circumstances. I’m certain I’ve never given a good answer as my brain is composed of Seinfeld reruns and mostly-useless sports stats but after thinking about it for a decent amount of time, I still definitely don’t have a great answer. 

I remember watching a movie about the Leadville 100 — a bike race that is exactly what it sounds like — about 15 years ago. After leaving the theater, I had this very strange desire to someday tackle the event. I probably had never run more than two miles at a time or biked more than 20. But I was triggered; a child unhinged. 

Watching these people make a decision to do something inevitably uncomfortable appealed to me as much then as it does now. It was a decision to stand out from the Dans of the world, to buck human nature. The willingness to actively accept pain and suffering into the foreseeable future was/is just (clapping emoji) so (clapping emoji) damn (clapping emoji)  sexy. 

I don’t believe the outcome of going through these sorts of events is pure enlightenment or some recognition of a cosmic truth. (I’ve done plenty of terribly uncomfortable things and am still quite a moron). But I do think it provides an opportunity to unearth a typically dormant version of yourself. The more we expose ourselves to complete annihilation, the more we can discover the unbreakable parts of our humanity. 

Over and over, I’ve played out Saturday in my mind. In my virtual recaps of the race, I’ve experienced incredible success, unavoidable catastrophe, and every amalgamation of the two I can reasonably conceive. My unreasonable conceptions often end with me turning into a GU packet and melting into the America River — but that may be reasonable, I really have no clue.

The one certainty of the day will be the assurance of the unknown: the facing of situations I’ve never encountered. And that’s the ‘why’ of all of this, for me. Being asked hundreds of tough questions and responding with enough resolve to get me to Auburn, California. 

Photography by Ryan Sterner.

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