Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Exit 29, Ultrarunning, and Wilderness

Here’s another Milepost 29 post on the heels of yesterday’s post.  As I drove up Interstate 81 as part of my daily 60-mile commute (today was my day to drive the carpool) I reflected that every single drop of gasoline that we use is based upon extraction technology and is a truly finite resource.  Now this is not a new fact, but today for some reason, I truly examined that fact and it really sank in for the first time.

Once we extract that last drop, it’s gone.  There’s no more.

That fact alone should make all of us and especially our leaders shudder.  Truth is, it’s kinda stupid to continue to base our entire infrastructure and economy on fossil fuels with no Plan B, but that indeed is what we are doing.  One would think that our leaders would be calling for a full-court press, like the concerted heroic effort that placed a man on the moon in the 1960s.  But one would be wrong.

I can’t solve the energy problem, but the finiteness of extractable fossil fuels contrasts starkly with the non-consumability (within reason) of wilderness. 
Wilderness (and I use the word loosely here to mean any backcountry in which we run), unlike fossil fuels, is non-consumable in the sense that whether 1 person or 1000 people view a waterfall, the waterfall is not diminished.  Within reason, given the constraints of physics and geology--erosion, soil type, etc.--most trails can tolerate few or many folks walking/running there.  In other words, wilderness persists without diminution. 

Wilderness is relative in the degree to which it contrasts to everyday life.  The beauty of ultrarunning is that it CAN be part of everyday life, thus inextricably tying us to wilderness.

Let’s let Aldo Leopold have the last word on wilderness:

Ability to see the cultural value of  wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility.  The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years. It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.  It is only the scholar who understands why the raw wilderness gives definition and meaning to the human enterprise.


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