Every summer hundreds of teams gather on the slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon to begin a 200 mile relay race from there to the ocean. Each team consists of 12 runners, split into two six-person groups; each group piles into a van where they’ll drink water, doze, eat strange foods, listen to loud music, cheer their team, and lace up their shoes for each of their shifts running 4-8 miles on some kind of crazy terrain. The elite teams do it in 20 hrs, or less. The rest of us have an amazing time of exertion, deprivation, and camaraderie over a day and half or so.
It began on the mountain, as it always must. Six of us come from darkness hungry with the unknown, climbing toward a dawn that was bound to burn clouds, but not before they emptied their blessing rain on our heads and the long road before us. To trace the line from fire to water, the volcanic height down to spray of salt: what a grueling gift, what a surrender to the compass of body following its old wisdom. Gather fire from the gods and return to the sea out of which we crawled, naked and full of joy and striving. We were gathered as a team to celebrate the linked path, and we were alone. When it was my turn I stood in the mountain road on great slope, my friend hurtling down in sweat to shove me into the race. The greatest joys and agonies of my life have been on the run, with comrades and competitors ahead and behind, as I struggled with the passion of breath and the bonfire of muscle. A magnificent thing to catch fire, to open arms and mind and lungs to the oxygen fuel, burning higher and faster, burning away thought, burning away body. You become the agonizing bridge between heaven and earth, you are dirt and star dust, your are wind and water, you are running from what has hunted you, you are chasing down what will feed you. I ran down the mountain all out until I collided with my next friend and passed him the flame. We ran, we fed, we cheered each other on, we slept fitful under a vastness of stars before waking to run again.
I ran at dawn, at sunset, and in the predawn mist outside of nowhere. Thirty hours until we found a clear horizon, until we lay down in sand and drank in the sun and air. We crossed the finish line a team and together plunged into surf, eyes alight with the joy that can only be known after suffering, bodies alive with the wild exertion. This is where I most love my friends, my body, my world, my being human, come down from mountain on fire to float awhile in an infinite sea.