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Lessons in Gratitude

Luke Nelson  /  September 8, 2017  /  3 Min Read  /  Trail Running

Luke Nelson experiences a moment of gratitude for some runnable terrain, thirteen hours into the Uinta Traverse. Utah. Photo: Jared Campbell

It started on a hot afternoon in May, deep in Bears Ears National Monument. Four of us had been going hard for a couple of days and the fatigue from difficult miles was stacking up. One of us was struggling. It might have been lack of training, or perhaps improper fueling for back-to-back 12-hour days running through the wilds of southern Utah. Or maybe, as we planned the trip, we hadn’t made clear that the mileages were just estimates and so far they were a bit off. Whatever it was, Matt was not having a good time.

Jared leaned over to me as we marched along the sandy canyon bottom. “You know,” he confided, “if we start running for a bit, it will make Matt grateful for when we walk.” We both chuckled, then started trotting along, intent on helping our friend find thankfulness.

A couple months later, Jared and I had embarked on another big adventure, this time in the High Uinta Wilderness of northern Utah. Our objective was to climb all of the state’s 13,000-foot peaks in record time. Six or seven hours after leaving the trailhead we joked about our current lesson in gratitude. For most of those hours, we had been traveling on terribly loose talus—the kind that moves every time it is touched. No rock, from the smallest pebble to the largest boulder, could be trusted to be stable. We became increasingly grateful for the rare buttery-smooth single track.

Photo: Luke Nelson

Jared Campbell runs the ridge above Red Castle Lake, a juxtaposition of difficulty and beauty. Uinta Traverse, Utah. Photo: Luke Nelson

Photo: Jared Campbell

The weather reflects Luke Nelson’s mood during a rough stretch. Photo: Jared Campbell

Sometime around two in the morning, the adventure had gotten quite difficult. We were slogging our way up East Gunsite Peak, which had been surprisingly strenuous. To top it off, Jared’s stomach wasn’t cooperating and both of our energy levels had tanked. I was having a bad patch and my thoughts had turned quite negative. Just below the summit I stopped to catch my breath. As I stood there, hands on knees, Jared walked up and asked, “You know what I am feeling?”

I took a moment to imagine his answer: Suffering? Discomfort? Torture? Before I could speak, he answered his own question: “Gratitude.”

I was completely caught off guard. Here we were, 22 hours deep, behind schedule and truly digging to keep the progress forward. Yet Jared stood there smiling, and explained that he was grateful to be in the mountains and grateful to be able to push his body well beyond what most think is possible. That simple comment reframed our entire experience.

Photo: Luke Nelson

Often a crowded and popular summit, Luke and Jared had Kings Peak all to themselves at 2 a.m. Photo: Luke Nelson

We would continue on for another 10 hours of tedious and difficult high-altitude terrain, along seemingly endless ridgelines, constantly teetering on loose talus. It would have been very easy to hunker down in the pain cave for an old-fashioned sufferfest, but we didn’t. Instead, we enjoyed a good lesson in gratitude.

On July 7, 2017, Luke Nelson and Jared Campbell completed the Uinta Traverse in 32 hours 50 minutes, the fastest known time for the 60-mile traverse that gains 22,600 feet of elevation.

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