Written by Neil Bryant - First published in http://www.likethewindmagazine.com/
The day had been relatively uneventful, except the start which had been frustrating as I had camped in some deep snow only about two km short of a hut which Charlie and Mark, who were part of the support crew, had manned over night warming it with a woodburner. I trudged through the previous night during a blizzard that demanded my goggles getting dug out of my pulk. My body was tired and my eyes were closed more than open. I slowly walked, zombie like through the night which was as black as tar. Occasionally I would step off the harder packed snow on the barely visible skidoo trail and would sink up to my thighs. An angry struggle with the snow would ensue as I struggled to get back on the trail. I knew that the hut was on this section of trail but the tiredness took hold and I thought that maybe I had passed it so eventually decided to set up camp. I was soon in my tent melting snow for my freeze-dried meals and of course a drink. I was, typically for me, struggling to stay well hydrated.
The next morning when I had packed up my pulk again and had continued down the trail I soon saw the hut just off to the left. I saw the teams skidoo and this confirmed that I had missed the luxury of a warm hut by a couple of km. What a waste of my time setting up and breaking camp and tediously melting all that snow. I tried with what mental capacity remained to not let this relatively minor negative event flow into the rest of my day. After a short stop in the hut, I continued on my way. The trail soon deteriorated from the hard pack (my feet were still sinking 5-10cms) to deep snow. I strapped myself into the skis and kept moving. I must keep calm and positive. I had a feeling that I was being tested. Navigation wasn't easy for this section, but after crossing the border into Norway, I found myself on a trail. After a while the snow was hard again so I removed the skis. I knew that I moved faster on my feet than skis. I often thought how great it would be to do an event like this and actually be a good backcountry skier i.e. Norwegian..
Just before it got dark I realised that I was south of where I wanted to be so decided to follow a less visible skidoo trail that would take me hopefully back on course. After about an hour I had come to the incredibly frustrating conclusion that I had made a bad decision. Stay calm and keep it in perspective. I was now travelling through very deep snow with no trails in the dark. I followed a GPS way point which signified a point on the trail. Once there I saw no sign of a trail. I sat in the snow exhausted and frustrated. I felt lonely for the first time in 10 days but the dominant feeling was one of frustration at my stupid error.
As I sat there I listened to the perfect silence surrounding me. I held my breath to make it complete. Although I was conscious that I was now at a real low point, I felt truly blessed to be sat in this particular spot away from the trail and in a true wilderness which to me is true beauty. This is what I came here for. These moments are worth the pain and hardship that it takes to get me to these points. In fact, without the testing journey that placed me in this particular location at this moment in time, the experience would be worthless in comparison.
My journey in ultra running begun at the ripe old age of 30, 8 long years ago. Initially I was a cyclist that trained doggedly but struggled for results. I tried a marathon out to see how I'd fare with running. My natural ability was definitely a little more with running than cycling. I then had to see what I could achieve. Performance was my initial target. I wanted to be quick and win races. As time moved on though, things have evolved, or devolved(?). Training became more and more unstructured as I started to run my own long runs of up to 100 miles with little or no support, during winter or Summer. I was having some truly incredible experiences on these runs and the physical and mental challenges faced when out for 24hrs unsupported are considerable compared to being supported in a race.
I prefer to be unsupported if it's safe as this for me makes it more my own work. It is slower and harder, but the entire creation is your own. When I take part in a long race, especially the super long races of 150 miles plus, your mental being is slowly broken down. Your ego is painfully torn from you and you are then pure. You are transparent and honest. Emotion pours from you and all comments and actions of a macho nature cease to exist. You are broken down to the real you that can only be true and honest. No walls to hide behind.
This can be a painful process but overall it is a rewarding time and during this state you experience the real highs. I have cried many times during races over things which normally would barely get noticed. For me it is nearly always happy moments that bring on the tears. Often I am a little confused, but now I accept this as real moments of happiness that my 'normal' self wouldn't notice.
I know I'm not blazing any trails here, but I am so excited to be at this exciting point in my devolution, and even more exciting is where my trail will go from here onwards. I hunger for the beautiful experiences that have got me here but as time flows, so the scale of the run grows. I feel like a junky, except the highs are more beautiful than anything obtained from a substance.
So, why do I run? I run because it brings me to a state of being that is true and free. A state that is fragile yet so beautiful. Physically I will be in an incredibly beautiful place that I will have a deeper appreciation of. I begin to feel as though I am a part of my natural surroundings rather than I am an outsider just visiting. Running has been the most emotionally charged and exciting journey I have ever been on and I feel like I have only just begun.