Trust takes you further | Madison Rose Ostergren
In August, we called professional skier Madison Rose Ostergren in Salt Lake City and asked if she wanted to write about how trust takes her further. She agreed, but after struggling for numerous days sitting down at home on her computer to write the story, she knew she had to head to the mountains where she thought she might find answers, or at least the initial spark to light the fire. She ended up trail running to the summit of Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah (13,528 ft). It was her longest trail/mountain run in one consecutive push, and she did it alone: 26.8 miles. 5,200 vertical feet of elevation gain. Car to car in one day. It was also a manifestation of what further can be. Read Madison’s story here.
by Madison Rose Ostergren
On the night of September 4th at 8:40 PM, I packed duffles full of backpacking, camping, and trail running gear, got in my car, and started driving East toward Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Two weeks earlier I’d been challenged by Helly Hansen to write a blog post about how trust takes me further, and after pondering it and failing to write anything, I realized that I needed to go out and do something I’ve never done before, in a place I’ve never been before – where I would be truly tested by the mountains and the environment, and ultimately, by myself.
I decided I’d give myself a little more of a challenge and leave at night, putting myself somewhere in the middle of the National Forest in the dark, where I would have to scout somewhere wild to camp in the dark (probably on the side of the road), with no cell service, no wifi, no ‘comforting friend to laugh about how ridiculous the situation is.’ It would just be me, myself, my thoughts, my knowledge, my experience, intuition, my gut feelings, and the trust I have in myself.
In order to really fully understand “present day Madison”, you might need a little background on “child Madison.” Spazzy, hyper, highly competitive, active, sporty, “let’s put her on a leash,” and “that one’s a hand-full,” were common phrases and recurring descriptors I was referred to as, throughout childhood. I wouldn’t disagree. Some would also say I liked pushing it a little ‘too far’, or further in this case, than what I or anyone else thought I was capable of doing. I found competition in everyday activities, wouldn’t settle for below 110% effort in all sports I participated in, and constantly created weird challenges for myself because that was all I knew. As a spirited, spontaneous, wild-child, I never really understood what a life outside of sports and athletics looked like. Sports is what I excelled at… and what I was recognized for… so I went with it. School really wasn’t ‘my thing’ anyways. When I look back, I think I just liked to keep things interesting for myself and everyone else around me… because frankly, I was an attention-seeking kid. My goal was to entertain and perform, not to slack, or to read, or to bore people with nonsense. I needed to keep everyone on their toes, and to do that I had to be the best competitor I could be. Self-driven and motivated, this theme has been quite normal for the last 23 years. This highly-competitive nature and goal-setting attitude allowed me to push my physical limits and run that extra mile (literally and figuratively), as I would almost pass out after at cross country races or during soccer games. But my parents didn’t want to hold me back, not that I would have actually let them, and so I continued pushing myself in sports, further and further.
I realize not a lot has changed. I still seem to thoroughly enjoy activities where I test my limits of pain, train extra hard, and continuously keep things interesting for myself by pushing further than what I thought my limits were originally. I was never fully satisfied because I always craved “further,” probably not even knowing where further leads, what it even was, or where it would take me. But that didn’t matter then, and it probably in certain ways doesn’t totally matter now. The mystery and unknown of further and the endless possibilities of what it could be, intrigues me still to this day. But now, further is keeping me on my toes. Eager, excited, and completely captivated by what I really just don’t know.
But anyways, back to the night of September 4th.
4 am: Five hours of sleep, on the road again, still dark. Two more hours and I see the first bit of sun peak over the horizon as I whip through dusty dirt roads maneuvering through beautiful deserted land. Summit angst.
When I pull my black Subaru impreza sport (which I should clarify: her name is Jade), into the elongated parking area of the Henry’s Fork trailhead, I have a hard time finding a spot, as it’s packed with cars full of people and gear, most setting out for multi-day backpacking treks. But this trailhead isn’t just any other trailhead. And I am not here for a multi-day backpacking trip. This trailhead is the Henry’s Fork Trailhead, which doesn’t mean anything to anyone, unless you also know that the Henry’s Fork Trailhead happens to be the same trailhead that leads to the “Highest Point in Utah.”
Kings Peak, the highpoint of Utah, sits at 13,528 ft and is the seventh highest of the U.S. State Highpoints, located in the High Uintas Wilderness Area of the Ashley and Wasatch National Forests. This notable peak is on almost every backpacker and hiker’s bucket list to summit in Utah.And I am here to run it. Car to car in one day. One push. One continuous run. Alone. Solo. 26.8 miles. 5,200 vertical feet of elevation gain. If I can do this, this will be the longest trail/mountain run I have ever done in one consecutive push. This will be my further. At least for this exact moment in time.
I pee seven times, lather up with sunscreen, make sure I have all my necessary gear and start my watch. As I start running I am comforted by the many things I can trust. I make a list in my head as I scamper along the beautiful well-trafficked path. I trust there will be water throughout the run, so my water filtration bottle will be sufficient for this endeavor. I trust the equipment on my body (my HH lightweight Rapide Windbreaker jacket, Lifa Active Solen Hoodie, shorts, socks, shoes, pack, etc.) I know this will keep my body temperature regulated as well as protected from the sun and wind. I trust my skills as a mountain athlete, my background as a runner, I trust and continuously give the respect the mountains and outdoors deserve by knowing the weather and conditions for the day (sunny and 60s–80s). Lastly, under different circumstances, I would normally be comforted by a partner or person on this long day of an adventure. I value my partners and the trust we have built with each other, but this time I do not have any partners. I am alone. So this type of trust must entirely come from myself.
Though being alone in a foreign place, doing something you have never done before in your life can sometimes be uncomfortable, for some reason this time I don’t feel nervous at all. I actually feel really comfortable. I trust the work I put behind my athletics and training. I don’t plan to be the fastest record-breaking runner up to this peak, but I do plan to push my limits and see if the hard work and training I have done physically and mentally in preparation for a mission like this will allow me to achieve this goal. I trust that I am achieving further in a safe way.
If I didn’t train hard in preparation for running 26 miles up to the tallest peak in Utah by myself, just like if I didn’t train to confidently stand on top of an awe-inspiring mountain before dropping in to ski, I surely would question myself and my capabilities before taking that kind of risk. I never want to question myself or my capabilities as an athlete, therefore I would never allow myself to slack on that front, not train hard or train well. The goals I have as a four-season athlete, as well as the powerful force of nature and mountains, will never tolerate a person ill-prepared, insufficiently trained, or inadequately anything. When you are tested by the rogue elements in the mountains and in nature, you are putting yourself, your mind, your body, and a lot of times – other people in situations where you must be confident and capable. Trust is KEY.
I make my way along varying terrain, over streams and rivers, across beautiful turquoise lakes, up rocky scree-fields, across boulders, through open fields of grass, until reaching the final push to the “top of the world.” Excitement rushes through my body as I inch closer to the summit. I have already gone approximately 12 miles to get to this point, and think to myself, “Dang, I am really committed now.”
But then it hit me: I was fully committed from the beginning. Heck, I was fully committed the day before this, when I decided to drive through the night, sleep on the side of the road, and then get up and run this damn thing. In fact, I was committed long before I even committed to summiting this exact mountain. I committed myself to be an outdoor athlete, skier, mountain runner, climber, when I decided to trust myself in making the decision to move forward, go further, chase my goals, push my limits, and trust my intuition and decision of living this exact life I am living right now. A life full of memorable experiences, unknown territory, unanswered questions, untouched landscapes, untapped consciousness, unseen beauty, unknown strengths, uncomfortable weaknesses, unforgiving elements, and beyond.
Okay, so I’ve come this far… and I think to myself. Alright, what is it?
So… what is further? Do we really know? How can we use trust to take us further if we don’t know what further has in store for us?
I would argue that maybe we don’t know what “further” actually means, because it is so individual and personal. Further for everyone is going to be different, and that is actually what makes it really unique and special. The one thing I do know is that in order to set myself up for a further that I can be proud of, look forward to, and want… I have to be able to recognize where I am at first. Being vulnerable and open to the idea of the challenge, change, fear, pain, discomfort, and sometimes even self-doubt is inevitable, but I am ready, and I am ready because I am doing this for me and me alone.
I am at 13,528 feet in the high alpine on top of Kings Peak and I recognize where I am. Physically, mentally and spiritually. Physically, I literally cannot go any further up (at least in Utah). I am standing on the closest rock to the sun and on the furthest rock from sea level in Utah. I am as high as I can go. Mentally, I check in with myself. I have 13 more miles to go. I’ve made it this far and my energy feels level, knowing I made it to the top and it’s mostly all downhill from here. I look down at my feet. I can feel hot blisters bubbling up on my wrinkled toes. Yes, It hurts, but I love it. I think if it were easy, then there wouldn’t be a challenge, and I guess I’m not a fan of things coming to me too easily. Earning something feels much more rewarding to me.
I feel connected to the mountain and start moving downhill at a steady pace.
As I pass by lush green fields of grass and approach a stunning alpine lake, I refuel myself with water and continue on. Hot, legs burning, eyes watering. I honestly feel a little beat up, a little broken down. My muscles feel fatigued, yet I don’t feel defeated. I keep trucking, my heavy legs pounding on the ground as I have much less energy in them than when I started this morning. I get to mile 20 and know I have 6 more miles to go, and that these miles might be the hardest, although they are the least impactful in terms of aggressive terrain.
I settle into a pace that feels comfortable and let my thoughts wander and drift.
As I got closer and closer to the trailhead, my heart began feeling an unfamiliar way. I tried to recognize this feeling, but couldn’t tell if this feeling is my heart sinking or racing. I could understand racing… “but why would it be sinking?” I thought to myself. I was about to finish a 26 mile run up the tallest mountain in Utah. “Wouldn’t that be a huge exciting accomplishment?” I asked. Yes, but maybe my heart felt like it was sinking because I was about to finish this long solo journey I had set off on and it was about to come to an end… and what if I didn’t completely find the answers I was looking for?
That’s when I saw the big wooden barrier gates and tall trail marking sign that had greeted me 8 hours earlier this morning. I ran towards it and then straight into the parking lot and just stood there, in the middle of the lot. Alone. Rugged, crusty, and gazing off into the distance with tired eyes and weak knees. It took about five seconds before tears started pouring out of my eyes and down my dirty sunburnt cheeks. I didn’t hold them back, I didn’t want to.
There I was. Standing there. Legs incredibly shaky, body like a wobbly bobblehead, and burning feet awash in blisters. My heart ached but not out of sadness, it throbbed full of pride. Although I was alone and had been alone through this entire journey, I really wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone because I had trust. I trusted myself and had taken a risk to do something I had never done before. I had to trust my preparation, my ability, my body, my determination and drive, my training and strength, my skills, and ultimately my mind, in order to take me further than I had ever gone.