How do you describe a trip that has changed the way you see the world?
Some experiences can’t be put into words. At least, I don’t ever feel like I have the words to do them justice. Experiences are built from the unfolding of events and the emotions that tie a person to them. Who was ever able to truly experience something without going along for the ride?
I hope I can give you at least an idea of what it’s like to experience the mountains of Oaxaca. If not, well.. maybe I can inspire you to plan a visit yourself…
First, let’s get the details out of the way. Why Mexico?
Janji, a company I love that makes beautifully unique running clothes and donates a percentage of its proceeds to clean water projects, teamed up with Aire Libre to put on this “nomadic runventure”. On the agenda: a few days to explore Oaxaca city, the opportunity to meet some of the most talented craftspeople in the region, amazing local food, and plenty of runs through the mountains.
I could get into the technicalities. Describe what we did each day- the sunrise yoga/meditation sessions, the mezcal tasting where we perhaps sampled a bit too many bottles. I could go on and on about the home of the rug weavers whose looms we played with and who fed us the most delicious, home-grown meal while we discussed sustainable agriculture and the health benefits of eating crickets.
But I don’t want to tell you what we did. I want to tell you how it felt.
Oaxaca City was beautiful, colors and sun. Music wafting around corners and people out and about, milling, giant balloons in the square surrounded by everything from dusty tortilla stands to local coffeehouses. It felt ancient but looked after, taken care of. The paint was fresh and clean, a city that’s been loved since before the ancestors of its inhabitants.
Under the open sky, the fifteen-ish of us that had signed on for this adventure were shuttled past lush mountains and fields to small places even more stunning. We chatted in broken Spanish to the men and women who live in this gorgeous country, so different from all of our very Western lives.
Each location we visited was like stepping into a new chapter from a favorite novelist. Travel and interconnectedness is commonplace today- you can get around the world in 24 hours, connect through video and phone calling in all but the most remote places. It’s rare to find moments where you truly feel as though you’ve gone someplace other.
Oaxaca was definitely someplace other.
Oaxaca is beautiful. The culture, the artistry, the history. The love its inhabitants have for their home is palpable. Exploring the region with our guide Mau was enlightening- his familiarity and intimacy with the people we met gave us real inside look at the way life happens here.
Then there were the trails.
Oh, the trails.
What’s the most alive you’ve ever felt?
The most free?
How close have you come to flying?
This was a trip built for runners, those with enough of an adventurous spirit to be willing to run up to 15 miles through mountains, up and down extreme hills, over crazy terrain marked by giant rocks and cliff edges, at 10,000 feet. I’ll be honest- it hurt. I personally hadn’t run much more than 5 miles at a time over the past year, and the 35 miles of trails I covered over 3 days made it hard to walk for several days after.
But I have no regrets.
I went to Mexico to challenge myself- mind, body and spirit.
Sometimes you can just tell when your mindset needs a refresh.
Following our local guides through the mountains, eyes focused on the trail but flashing up to look across the valley, at the mountains, the scenery…. these were not your average trail runs. Physically, it was intense. I actually lost sight for a bit from altitude sickness on one of the runs! But after I recovered it was back to crashing down steep single track trails, leveraging my hands on my quads to march up mountainsides.
Out there beneath the great open skies, surrounded by old forests and away from the noise of the everyday… There was no time for pain, no time to worry about splits or pace or nagging injuries. It was about the run, the feeling of motion, eternal flight, a disregard for anything but propelling your body through space, fully immersed in the present moment.
The mountains of Oaxaca reminded me why I started to run.
Why I hope everyone gets to experience this sport. Not because you’re trying to be fast, lose weight, look good… those things may happen as well, but the point of the run is to embrace that magic, that flight, that stunning feeling you earn when it all syncs up. Breath comes easy and your legs cycle beneath you and you’re left just feeling all that strength, that bliss.
At one of our morning meditation sessions, we were asked to consider something we were grateful for, to hold onto it throughout the day. I thought about how many years of my life I’ve dedicated to running, the books I’ve read, people I’ve run with or been coached by or helped guide. I am so grateful every day for all the things running has given me, and it was incredibly uplifting to remember that despite some lackluster race performances, overuse injuries and whatever other interruptions had affected my speed, I could still do this.
I could still fly to a foreign country with a group of strangers and explore the outdoors on foot. I could still challenge myself, still experience the most beautiful places and surround myself with people who are equally humbled by the adventures the world can offer.
And that is more than enough.
What a privilege it is to be alive and strong.
As much as I got out of this trip as an individual, half the magic of it was the group of like minded adventurers it brought together. Every person on the trip had such a unique personality, and sharing old stories and this new experience with them was eye-opening. I’ve always believed running with someone is the best way to get to know them because you see and support each other through the best parts of it, the views and runners highs, as well as the lows- the roadside vomiting, fatigue or whatever else comes up. I loved running with these strangers-turned-friends, and the sense of camaraderie present throughout the trip reminded us all of those cross-country team vibes.
The mountains of Oaxaca were invigorating. A much needed restoration of self. There is nothing like flying to a new country and delving straight into the rural areas outside of the average tourist’s awareness. There are few experiences to match the sensation of getting to know another culture so intimately- as a runner, as a traveler, as a nomad…
There is no way to end a trip quite like this, but I think being bounced along rocky winding roads, seatbelts off, in a van playing Mexican radio music with a group of no-longer strangers gazing across the mountains we spent the week running through…
Well, that’s about as perfect as a thing can get.