it used to be a private, narrow gauge railroad; a funicular. there were small, open passenger cars that slowly articulated the mile-long slope. it wasn’t too long ago when that ended, and the trespassing began.
it might be surprising to discover how many folks don’t know this basic bit of incline history. i've learned this after explaining to many of them that those rough-hewn beams are railroad ties, not poorly-placed steps. soon, though, there will be more steps than ties, as well as more culverts for rain mitigation, more environmentally-friendly ground cover for erosion control and soil mitigation, and more pedestrian-friendly designs for trail conservation. this will be far less dangerous than the splintered lumber and protruding rebar of the past. unfortunately, this will also distance the incline further from its origins, as it will inevitably bring more folks, with less awareness.
the incline matters quite a lot to quite a few of us, yet it means something unique to each of us. i find moments of grace and patience on the hike. i find an opportunity for perspective at the summit. i find an easy confidence, a sense of elation, and a strength in my stride on the return run. and, let me tell you ... all of that awesomeness follows me on my way home. it matters to me, so i prioritize it in my life. i know that two hours are about what i need, from key out of the ignition, to key in the ignition, unless i choose to linger. i try to time my arrival with the shuttle intervals when i park on the east side of town. i have never needed to pay for parking. nor have i ever really understood why most folks would choose to do so. i’m content to catch the shuttle, or walk until the shuttle catches me. i’ve also recently learned that most of the local businesses appreciate this, and for reasons that i hadn’t yet considered.
i’ll admit to a certain sense of anxiety; of being rushed for some reason. but, those feelings have shifted as i’ve taken notice of the demeanor of the folks i’ve encountered on the shuttle. as i answer the questions of the tourists and marvel at the passing manitoids, i’ve always been struck by the distinct intensity of the obvious incliners; the barely-contained urge to just be there already. from these observations, i’ve decided to only do the incline when i have the time. if it’s important, then i’ll find the time. if not, why struggle? why be bitter with the folks who are loud, obnoxious, or utterly oblivious to trail etiquette? why be tight-lipped and stern, or possibly confrontational with the folks who have the audacity to violate my understanding of priority and propriety? i've never understood that instinct. why be angst-ridden and impatient, only to be frustrated with everything that i encounter along the way? i've never been able to appreciate that kind of drive or that method of motivation; nor the compulsion to define the experience in terms of personal bests and so many minutes. i choose not to play that way. i tend to change the subject when the competition begins, and i try to calm the impulse to silently pass judgement with as much compassion as i’m able to find.
admittedly, sometimes i fail. however, since i decided to create a practice in patience of the incline, more often than not, i succeed. someone once told me to immediately attend to any strong feeling that may arise in me, and after doing so, to continue living by doing something admirable. of course, my next question was, admirable to whom? the response was, admirable to you. i consider ascending the incline to be physically admirable, but the things that i find deeply and personally admirable are the details of the journey that only i know. i’m hesitant to offer my thoughts for fear that it may be considered a veiled solicitation for kudos. it’s not. nor is this a statement concerning what i think another should or should not do. i don’t like to be “should” upon, so i try not to “should” upon others. this is what i have to offer. simply put ... a different approach and a different perspective.
because it matters to me, i find some time to let the time go. seriously. i've met so many folks who are completely maddened by trying to manage the incline with their own time restraints. enjoy the opportunity when it’s available, or find something else to do. this is the great state of colorado! there is so much to explore, so many other trails or parks or gyms ... whatever the flavor.
the incline is a beautiful opportunity, not just as another option. i prepare myself for the endeavor. i eat and hydrate well before i begin. i carry a pack with another layer of clothing, a headlamp, a rain jacket, two liters for myself, and a sealed bottle of water for whomever may need one. the only condition that i have for sharing is that the plastic bottle not remain on the mountain. i always have a small med pack with supplies, aspirin, benedryl, and an epi pen, and i also bring a mesh bag to pick up trash along the way.
i choose to do these things because it matters to me. because i have been cold, in the dark, wet, thirsty, injured, or just plain disgusted with the litter at various points on various trails. if i’m able to alleviate that burden easily for myself or for another, why not do that? i donate what i’m able, when i’m able. i know what toadflax is, and i understand why it needs to be completely removed, rather than pulled and left on the side of the trail. i listen to what’s happening around me. i offer encouragement. i read the bulletin, because things change. i say hello to dogs, because they’re not responsible for their owners. i smile at the folks who pass by in either direction, i stay on the trails, and i yield to the folks traveling uphill. i choose to do these things because it all matters to me, and this meaningfulness is not compromised or reduced in any way by whether or not it also matters to others.
on the incline, i give considerable thought to my breath, engaging in the exhale, while synchronizing it with the effort required. physiologically, this reduces co2, thus reducing lactic acid and muscle fatigue, as it promotes an effective respiratory rhythm. when the core muscles are engaged during the exhalation, a deep inhalation naturally follows. once i find that flow, i begin to pray ... not to anything in particular, but more in the manner of meditation. i pray for strangers, for friends and family, and for animals. i pray for solutions. i pray for strength, for peace, for patience, for kindness, for grace, for compassion, and for acceptance. i consider it to be over two thousand opportunities to quietly offer a lil’ bit of love, to myself, and to the universe. barr trail, on the other hand, demands attention. it requires constant presence of mind to negotiate the boulders, the drop-offs, the random stairs, the roots, the switchbacks, and the various unexpected encounters. nonetheless, running that trail is absolutely amazing!
i’m fond of extending the experience by hiking above the summit, or by doubling back from the bailout point to the summit. i appreciate that my only thoughts are of the moment. when my thoughts wander while i’m running, the trail is always, and usually immediately, there to remind me of what matters ... the present; the here and now. that’s why it is so amazing! it’s a brilliant, sometimes brutal, gravity-assisted exercise in the nauseating cliché that is mindfulness. i have so much gratitude for the lessons that i've learned by running barr trail. the simple bits, such as opening my stride on smooth stretches to minimize the impact on my knees, and the more juicy, complex bits, such as intuitively understanding exactly where my body, my breath, and my mind are at any given moment.
if ever the words i love this trail are uttered out of nowhere on an overcast afternoon, they’re likely to come from my lips. i’m often enamored enough of the experience to continue running down ruxton, which is tricky. the parade of pedestrians and vehicles is almost incessant, and the sidewalks are narrow, or sometimes non-existent.
i empathize with the folks who live in the canyon. i respect their neighborhood and their privacy, and i try to remember that it may mean something else entirely, but it matters quite a lot to them, too. it matters to the businesses that i support and that i encourage others to support. it matters to the café, where i stop for a fantastic iced mate. it matters to the chocolate shop, where i have no guilt whatsoever about picking up dark chocolate-covered coconut clusters. it matters to the ice cream shop, where i indulge my fantasies of frozen chocolate and peanut butter. it matters to the folks with whom i share these moments, and it matters to me, as i stumble upon these new faces and new places with exhausted legs, and an elevated heart. be fair. be understanding. be caring. be kind. be intelligent in the approach. be nurturing. be genuine. find a path with folks, rather than near folks. until then, happy trails, y’all!