Every year when I get the phone call to work at Steens Mountain Running Camp I am overwhelmed with excitement and hope for another year in a life changing place. Not only do I get to work with inspirational people, but I get to visit a remote area of southeast Oregon; A remote area, inhabited rarely, by few, where I feel most at home.
As a young runner Steens Mountain Running Camp was a must. The first time I went to The Mountain was a few weeks after I finished 8th grade. My Dad taught me that to be a great runner I had to train with great runners. I figured Steens would allow me to do that. What I didn’t foresee was the impact that a running camp, the love of the staff, and a rugged mountain landscape would have on my future. The training load put on the campers is difficult for seasoned runners, unfathomable for most. The time I spent that summer strengthened my legs and lungs for the upcoming season, but changed my perception of the world forever. The mountain quickly taught me through rolled ankles and scraped legs, the value of effort, selflessness and suffering. The landscape of this mountain and the sport of long distance running complement each other and reflect life, in all its beauty, trials, failures and joy.
When you are on The Mountain, Flatland America, and the values it holds, becomes a distant memory. The smell of juniper and sage in the thin morning air is a spirit shaping aroma. In the words of Harland Yriarte Camp Founder, “Its not just a physical venture, its so much more than that. But you use the physical, you use the running in order to get at somebody’s heart and head and allow them to breathe in this place…”. This unique landscape is far from the only reason that special things happen on The Mountain. The founders and directors of the camp create an environment that encourages kids, to be better runners, but far more importantly to be better people. To again use Harland’s words, “One thing that Steens Mountain has taught me is that people are chameleons: you become what you surround yourself with. If you want to be a good person, you surround yourself with good people. If you want to espouse good values and internal beauty and strength you surround yourself with an externally beautiful and rugged world”.
I can’t wait to make the long drive out to Burns Oregon this July. Take the right hand turn on to HWY 205 and speed out to Frenchglen. I’ll roll down my windows, turn onto a dusty, washboard road and smile. I’ll run the canyons, swim the lakes, watch the sunrises and sunsets, have one sided conversations with the antelope, race a jackrabbit; lose. I’ll get dusty, sweaty, dirty, sunburned and tired. I’ll clean porta-potties, do dishes, set up camp, chop wood, build campfires, listen to coaches, chat with kids, make lasting friendships.
I’v spent many summers enjoying creation on the Steens, and I hope to spend many more. But when the light fades, and my joggin shoes get dusty send me to the realest place I know. Let the autumn wind spread my ashes over the Kiger, for then and there I will truly be free.