Sunday, May 23, 2010

Satori on the Trail

I just finished reading Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.  It's one of my all time favorite books that is worthy of reading every few years.  This was the first time I read it as a runner and it touched me in an entirely different way.  Kerouac's spontaneous prose regarding his (Ray's) hiking experiences with Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) often mirror my feelings, thoughts and experiences when I'm out running the trails.  The following is one of my (many) favorite excerpts with which I can closely identify:

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.

The book is so honest, real and true.  One minute Ray is delighted and enchanted by all the beauty that surrounds him on a hike and experiences clarity, enlightenment and is at peace.  The next he's utterly miserable and is swearing, crawling into a cave, refusing to take another step.  As endurance athletes, don't we all experience periods of low lows and high highs?  Doesn't that make pushing limitations all that more meaningful?

I love Ray's mad craving for a Hershey's chocolate bar towards the end of long, grueling hike and his serious noshing during or after his adventures.  There have been many a run or post-run that I felt like I would literally die if I didn't have a coveted food.  Everything tastes better out on the trail in the middle of a run.  A Lay's potato chip or a wedge of orange is an absolute delicacy. 

I've ditched my iPod and instead opt to listen to the sounds of nature, lose myself and/or meditate on my trail runs.  Now I'm wondering what it would be like to listen to a book like Dharma Bums as I run. I might have to give it a try.

Lastly, I must say that my dog Japhy Ryder, indeed lives up to his namesake Dharma Bums character.  Small, wirey with a sage-like grin on his face, my Japhy absolutely loves being out on the trail.  He is wise, silly, completely Zen, lives for the moment and has amazing trail sense.

Next on my trail-loving reading list: John Muir


  1. His bravery at openly exposing his deepest fears and most lonesome moments, like when he cried himself to sleep in the railyards of LA, are the rawest literature I've encountered. Musicians and poets frequently take us to these places, at least the ones that last at some deep level, but it is rare to see such honesty.

    Trail running takes one somewhere truly different. You grabbed one of the best sections of the work to reveal Jack's writing. Trail running and stream of consciousness writing/thinking are intertwined. I can be in the worst funk going up a section of trail and see a rabbit dash across the trail, a new flower poking out from the trailside, the sun will peek out from behind a cloud or an unexpected downpour will suddenly find me grinning and wondering at the limitless wonder of the universe.

    Keep running, keep writing, keep living, keep dreaming ... we are all thunderbolts in the void illuminating all.

  2. ooooh, I love the excerpt! What I always think about when I'm in the woods is that they will be there and look and feel just the same without me, in the middle of the night, in a storm, at daybreak and that the streams and rivers are constantly moving whether I'm there to enjoy them or not. It's comforting to know and yet a little eery somehow.