Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ras Jahson Ites Tafari, Double Wonderland FKT

Please read the entire Double Wonderland by Ras Jahson Ites Tafari: UltraPedestrian
For Pictures:'s Facebook Page

"There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mysteries, its melancholy and its charm." - Teddy Roosevelt

An uncountable collection of Western Hemlocks loom confidently above the Box Canyon parking lot, but the misty air is suffocating any view beyond the tree tops. My car's digital clock, a collection of flat black numbers cast on a putrid yellow background, click over minute-by-minute: 6:59, 7:00, 7:01. Ras Jahson Ites Tafari is on the Wonderland Trail somewhere between my rapidly cooling Subaru Outback and Devils Dream; roughly a twenty-mile stretch, easily navigable, but he's toting 140 miles of fatigue along a trail that is, as Ras will describe to me later on, "...always going uphill." I'm restless and the juxtaposition of fog and Ras' unknown whereabouts is becoming increasingly claustrophobic. My thoughts are now irrational, "He should be here. Damn! I can't believe I may have missed him."

Please read the entire Double Wonderland by Ras Jahson Ites Tafari: UltraPedestrian

A runner attempting an unsupported, one-lap, fastest known time ceased his attempt sometime during the previous night and found himself sleepless among the snarls of agitated wildlife. As he sits in my front seat, looking abandoned on the inside and shares his short adventure of the lightening storm, the rain, and that he has no real plan on getting home, I numb myself to the idea that Ras may be following a similar scenario. A few days later I find out the runner successfully failed at his attempt, but survived, and found a ride home.

"The education of the soul is not a process of bringing it into correspondence with a physical structure like the external world, but rather a process of rightly affecting its motion." - Richard Weaver, The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric

It's 11 o'clock, the clouds lift and the aroma of moist soil fills the air. It's been so dry this summer that you can almost sense the vegetation sighing in relief from the sudden downpour the night before. As the hours crash over like waves cascading into a beach, each one chipping away at the foundation of relaxation, I'm frustrated, confused, and curious. "Did Ras and his pacer, Allen, call it during the storm? Is he hurt? Who the fuck attempts something like this?" Ras's tardiness reaches eight hours, I get the feeling that he has somehow laid down an unbelievable surge and is almost to the White River Campground. "Ras doesn't quit," is repeated aloud. Somehow just hearing my voice say the mantra I've applied to a runner I barely know satiates my worries. However, I set a time to throw in the towel. I make a quick getaway to the, surprisingly clean, porta-john and as I emerge a man with trekking poles, astonishingly long dreadlocks, and an aura of determination is standing patiently by my Subaru. After a bit of catching-up, chatter, and excitement we head north on the trail to the finish line.

"The eye is numbed by vastness and magnificence, and passes over the fine details, ignoring them in a defense against surfeit." - Eliot Porter, The Living Canyon

The route from Box Canyon to White River Campground, on a map, looks like an electrocardiogram of an irregular heart beat. This is fitting because the 186-mile attempt is from the mind of an irregular man. Outfit with a positive vibe, Ras' personality is a cornucopia of good will, adventure, and an intoxicating joy for attempting to find his limits; common traits among ultra-runners. Climbing out of Box Canyon, Ras and I ramble along the pedestrian highway around the enormous stratovolcano small talking about the amazing distinctions between plant and animal, and the uniqueness of fungus, more specifically mushrooms. "Yeah, mushrooms are a part of their own Kingdom. Separate from plants, animals, and bacteria," Ras rattles off the information like a well learned mycologist. We share a fondness for everything natural and friendship.

For Pictures:'s Facebook Page

5:00 PM, "Two hours....four miles...sixteen miles to go." I'm glancing at my watch every quarter-mile. "I've got to stop this. I'm missing out on an experience. This watch has got to run out of battery sooner than later." It's too often that we, as humans, try to build a comfortable cage around situations that are exposed. The wilderness is a place lacking human faults. We run, but we run with GPS watches, shoes that, "make us natural," and other devices that bring more of man into nature, than nature into man. I, too, am guilty of all of this, and I don't think it's wrong, but you can't let yourself be afraid of being uncomfortable. I turn the watch to the inside of my wrist and forget about time; another man-made commodity.

"I stayed in the village only a few minutes. I had come to study ant..." - E.O. Wilson, Bernhardsdorp

Stopping only for brief stints to take in scenery, stretch, and awe at elk singing into the hillside, we stumble into Indian Bar. We are basically half-way, 15 minutes under four hours. Ras needs to eat, and I decide to munch on a peanut butter sandwich. I don't eat much. My sense of taste is in a torpid state as other senses congregate the enormity of the glacier carved valley where we are sojourning. We are small. Ras explains, "I'm hurting, but you know the mountain doesn't care about us. Just like we take little note of ants wandering at our feet. But you know, if you saw the same ant every day you'd bond with it. Giving it a name, but still when the time comes, if it's killed you move on without looking back. Maybe the mountains have done that with me. This is my 10th circumnavigation of Mount Rainier. I wonder if Rainier, Adams, and St. Helen talk with each." As we rise, the sun falls, the fog rolls in like a ghost train picking up passengers. I let Ras muse without interruption. The distraction takes his mind off the pain of completion. I can tell he's ready. Not ready for the pain to stop, but ready for the journey to end. Ras knows, by now, that he can complete the Double Wonderland, and now the giddy butterflies that you get on the first date have stopped flying. The movements become more about repeating and less about accomplishment.

Please read the entire Double Wonderland by Ras Jahson Ites Tafari: UltraPedestrian

Ascending patiently toward Panhandle Gap, the high point of the entire trail: 6,750 ft. above sea level, we stop to stretch and Ras, with a childish excitement, says, "I see a bear." I turn quickly with eagerness. I see nothing. I scan the valley, I see nothing. I look back at Ras and with confusion ask, "Where?" He points to the bear, and says, "I see elk." Now, I'm really confused. "Ras, I don't see anything," I'm trying to be polite.  Ras is focused, though. He looks around on the ground we're standing on and says, "Well, if they are not there, these rocks won't hurt them." Solid logic for a person that is working his way closer and closer to ninety hours of non-stop travel. Ras, throws a rock and as the rock falls toward the animals we look with the anticipation of fans watching a hail-mary being lunged into the air as time expires. Nothing moves. Ras throws another rock. This rock, a little bigger, falls like Alice down the rabbit hole, it never seems to hit the ground. Another rock. Ras becomes as confused a Data from Star Trek learning about the gap between logic and human emotion. Ras sighs and confides, "I've never hallucinated." I see a glimmer of defeat in,  Ras, but the defeat solidifies we need to keep moving and finish. I wheedle Ras away from his imagination feeling a little guilty about taking away his belief, but we agree that maybe the animals were there and I just didn't see them.

"The sentence 'dreams fulfill desires' may have been repeated throughout the centuries; it is not the same statement in Plato and in Freud." - Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge

Entering the snowfields just prior to Panhandle Gap the fog is so thick that the light from our headlamps is blinding us as it ricochets back into our dilated pupils. The muddy footprint trail across the safer sections of snow is hit-and-miss. The rain the night before has melted a lot of snow, and the trail is in some spots thirty to forty feet further down the slide area. I've never been here, and even if I had the lack of illumination sends shivers up my spine. I'm constantly asking Ras, "Does this look familiar?" Kindly he replies, "No. Not really. It doesn't seem right." Well, there goes my comfort. Time to embrace the uncomfortable: traversing snowfields by retracing the past journeys of those before low visibility. I remind myself, "Trey, you'll love this moment when it's no longer the present." It doesn't seem to help, but I know it's true. I'm slipping, I'm sliding, and Ras is sharing his Black Diamond Z-poles as we cross the hidden slopes. After each crossing we search frantically, without much talking, for cairns, man-made commodities I'm embracing for strength. I remind myself again, "When it's over, it'll be great." Cresting the summit we begin our descent over a boulder field, down a large snow field, search for the trail and begin our descent into White River Campground.

" not directed at possibilities or pure essences; it is directed at what exists; one does not love possibilities, one loves that which exists or is destined to exist." - Jacques Maritain

I smile and think, "Ras is going to do this, and I'm off those damn snowfields." The present has become the past. We have about six miles to the finish line, my watched battery died hours ago and Ras is confident he wants to see Kathy, his wife. He vocally meditates about how much he misses her. Explaining to me, "We live in a small cabin, and we spend a lot of time closer to each other than most couples. It's really tough coping with being away from her for so long." Running has a way of making us honest, not just through physical ability, but emotionally breaking us down into our core. For Ras, it's Kathy.

For Pictures:'s Facebook Page

Crossing the various rivers formed by melting snow and ice can only mean one thing: we're almost there. The night has become such a constant that the stars look boring. "At least the clouds have moved on," I think.  Ras is silent, too silent. I speak into the cool night air with excitement. Ras occasionally responds with, "Trey, I'm sorry I'm not talking, I really appreciate your company." I laugh because, well, I'm tired and I've mostly let go of my inhibitions to be polite. I reassure him that, "No worries. I talk a lot to myself aloud." The last fork in the trail arrives, Ras sits down. I talk some more as he falls asleep. I start counting in my head, take a few photos and wake Ras up. "I hope he believes he's slept for minutes, " I cautiously think to myself. I only let him have 20 seconds. "He's exhausted, no way he knows or even cares," I confidently think. The next few miles are nothing more than me talking and Ras marching. I didn't want to stop again. We are too close and so I deploy a plan. I'm just going to make Ras move. I find that when he starts to slow down that if I step on the ground harder he naturally falls into cadence. If he stumbles, I compliment him for not falling and he keeps going. We enter the campground, I snap the last photo and we find the campsite. Ras is done. I'm done.

"The word virtue, with its equivalent in every tongue, implies praise..." David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste

I think it's cliche to further this report about what I learned, the lessons are nothing unique. But the people in the experience are unique. Thank you, Ras for placing trust in me to show up, and help you. Thank you, Kathy for inspiring such a great person . Like I said, Ras and I didn't really know each other before we stepped off from Box Canyon. But man, we clicked. Our talks about Rasta, mushrooms, wildlife, and the amazing connection between environment and human made the scenery of the experience real. Also, big shout out full of love to Laura Kay for being along for the ride and having an amazing meal in the car when I showed up...That's a story for another blog.

Please read the entire Double Wonderland by Ras Jahson Ites Tafari: UltraPedestrian
For Pictures:'s Facebook Page