Updated: Jun 11, 2020
One of my favorite trail runs is one of my hardest. Starting out in a pine forest, it climbs up through aspen stands, past old homesteads, and through cattle grazing areas before leveling off, just briefly, after 5 miles and 2100' of elevation gain. From then on it winds across shrub-steppe terrain and through shaded glades before descending back into the forest.
In spring, the arrowleaf balsamroot bloom at the middle elevations, flanking the sides of the trail and the surrounding hills with riots of color that never fail to surprise me with their beauty. For a while, the earliest wildflowers overlap with the sunflowers. Tiny spring beauty, glacier lilies, trumpet bluebells, and shooting stars, carpeting the forest floor in some places, nestled near the base of boulders in others.
These delicate flowers skirt the single track trail, just inches away from knobby mountain bike tires, pounding running shoes, the picks and hoes of trail crews. Scrabbling their way up through the arid soil, thrusting up to sunlight from under a blanket of pine needles, they blossom on the edge: the edge of the trail, the edge of being trampled, trodden, picked, and crushed.
They're botanicals, not sentient beings. They're not choosing the trail margins for their proximity to the action.
No, that's what we do, if we're brave enough. Put down roots in rugged earth, cling to life just this side of the thin line between exhilaration and peril. Close enough to get hurt, if we're unlucky. But any farther away, and we might miss something, so we keep returning to the brink, every time.