The sun was fully risen for some, bathing the Oquirrh Mountains on the far side of the Salt Lake Valley in an orange light and casting shadows of the Wasatch Mountains’ peaks across the gridded valley floor. The peaks of the shadows pointed to the first place in this landscape to see dawn. My old friend Matt and I would see dawn soon too where we stooped over our packs in a gravel parking lot making final adjustments before turning our faces to the trail north.
This trip felt like a celebration of Matt’s move from North Carolina back to Utah, but it was also meant to be a near-final weaving of routes for me. Over the previous couple of years I had been running every trail I could get my feet on through the part of the Wasatch closest to my home. I call it the central Wasatch, the lowest point of the range where indigenous paths naturally routed, where the Donner Party came through, where the Mormons, and, finally, ski instructors and restaurant employees on their commute from Park City to Salt Lake followed their progenitors down the constantly-humming I-80.
Before this running exploration stint, I was almost ready to leave the Wasatch foothill ecosystem. I thought I might go back to the Colorado Plateau region from which I formed, but I didn’t; I stuck around. The reasons for sticking around are many, but one of them I can trace back to moving fast.
I’ve been running most of my life, but the habit increased in tandem with an uptick in backpacking. I wanted to be in shape for those longer, more challenging trips, so I’d throw on my turquoise running vest almost daily, and hit the trails. I didn’t know how moving quickly through my local ecosystem would change how I think about moving through landscapes in general.
For starters, I thought that moving quickly over the land would inherently disallow the type of close observation in which I like to engage. I like to encourage my naturalist proclivities: getting to know the birds, getting to know the plants. But moving fast would prove to have other benefits I couldn’t see at first.