Sometimes I get a craving for spending a clear morning on the trail the way I crave chocolate or peanut butter – the need comes on hard and fast.

I’ve started prioritizing those cravings when they come on…but I’ve noticed that the more I give in to the pull of the trail, the more I need for mental health and overall happiness.

I get my fix in any number of ways, from going on a lunchtime stroll during the workday to driving eight hours to the Colorado mountains in order to eat up as many miles as my feet (and weekend) will allow. Lately, “the fix” has meant coordinating monthly birding outings with two awesome ladies from our local Audubon group and working towards a trail half marathon in October.

Engaging in these two activities has left me with two very different sets of experiences. On a trail run, I spend the vast majority of the time looking at my feet and where they’re about to be placed, scanning the next few steps ahead for potential trip hazards. My 10-mile long run yesterday saw me almost collide with two deer, for crying out loud. I only saw them when I heard them jump off the trail and into the trees a few yards away from me. They were young, backs still speckled with white, and they stared as I continued on past, apologizing for the upset.

Will there come a time when I glide over the earth like the Tarahumara? Feet barely skimming the ground as I fly over obstacles? Never say never, I guess. For now, my biggest concern on a trail run, largely, is to avoid falling flat on my face. It can be challenging to revel in the glories of nature when all you’re worried about is a rogue tree root.

Not so with birding. This morning we walked slowly, savoring the feeling of fall around the corner. We covered little ground overall but spent time watching a family of red-headed woodpeckers flit through the trees, quarreling or playing or foraging or doing whatever it is families of woodpeckers do. A flock of pelicans glided easily overhead. A monarch flew from the trail, the cold slowing its movement. Bald eagle, eastern bluebird, summer tanager, osprey, titmouse, nuthatch. We wondered over plants we couldn’t identify and spider webs glistening with dew.

On a trail run I’m internally focused. Thoughts are dominated by my breathing, my tired muscles, where to put my feet, what I’m going to eat when this is over. When I go birding, that focus is turned outwards, towards what I can see, smell, hear, and feel. I value both kinds of experiences for what they bring to my time spent outdoors. Ultimately, I’m just happy to be on the trail. 

Written by: Heather | Photography by: Jamie