Making the most of what I can do, I checked in with my medical team in Denver and hopped out to trails throughout Colorado. Arizona and Utah.

Mother Nature served a smorgasbord of diverse terrain, obstacles, wildlife and weather during my weeks in Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Spring seemingly stubborn to get moving while winter quite happily sticking around and sharing brisk mornings, with heaps of mud awaiting under frozen puddles all crevassed between skiers who have hung up their boards and hikers yet to dust their boots, I embraced all that which is low season, leaving me feeling sky high in the USA.

The overwhelming size and tempo of American concrete jungles and accessing trails frequently leaving me with a thumb out and a reminder of autonomy lost, were more easily digested when able to get intimate with nature, dancing through alpine meadows, blooming forests, atop slick red rock, arches and cliffs.

The north of the America’s proved different from the south  where in Argentina and Peru, I could often run to trailheads without pounding pavement or seeking four wheels. I find gratitude in the people I met in light of obstacles; bikers, hikers, ranchers, drivers and park rangers helping me navigate and adding cheers, check-ins and following along my trails.

Park maps and signage made for ease and enjoyment in puzzling together trails to extend, add variety and solace in getting off beaten paths in each of the three states. That said, my timing coincidently and thankfully matched that of low tourism season. With few travellers in search of accommodations in Colorado ski towns or the mountain bike mecca that is Moab, my budget went further than it would at any other time during the year. With the all but deserted trails to myself, language barrier and maps put aside, I embraced the cradling solace, a haven for my healing body and soul.

From the simplicities of South America where my soul, the essence of who I am, was nourished by Mother Nature, even small town America was a challenge to digest. That said, Colorado, the state which saw me on death’s doorstep less than 2 years ago seemed like a nourishing place to begin. From the days of being a hopeless patient relentlessly begging for doctors to simply discharge me to the rugged Rockies, I anticipated their mountainous embrace.

It was immediately evident why locals boast about Boulder being consistently rated among the top of the USA’s happiest places to live. Though little time spent in the city proper, the sport-savvy mentality of the all those whose trails I crossed along with the municipalities commitment to open space preservation, vast network of dirt trails and the iconic Flatirons, Boulder left me inspired and with a catalogue of trails to return for.

From the generously populated foothills of the Rockies, arriving in Telluride felt like the opening scene of a scary movie.  A desolate ghost town, it would be tough to convince anyone that Telluride is a place where celebrities are known to kick back and blend in; if they were there, blend in they did. Crowds were nonexistent, prices were low, stoke was high, as was the snow in the shaded forests.

The white blanket became increasingly thick, embracing the aspens with heavy snow as I made my way high up into the Roaring Fork Valley. Overwhelmed by crowds, raging restaurants, hurried traffic and absorbed shoppers, Aspen at low season suited me perfectly.  A trail run deep in the Hunter Creek valley will forever remain vivid and reflected upon with gratitude for a most serendipitous encounter. Connecting my trail with local author, athlete, rancher and new friend, Tom who had just finished a novel about an athlete who suffered a life changing traumatic brain injury instilled energy and empathy on the trail and inspiration far beyond. Aspen’s accessibility to trails, variety of terrain, views, weather and encouraging new friends left me with eager anticipation for an extended return.

Though best known as a mecca for mountain biker pilgrimages, Moab’s slick-rock terrain invites countless opportunities to run back through time, 300 million years in fact, through red rock arches, alongside panels of petroglyphs and among dinosaur tracks from wide open to fun single track. I prefer the solace away from popular tourist hot spots and, with some invaluable local insight, crossed paths with only a handful of riders and even fewer runners during my week in the area.

Despite its historical fame, slick-rock was brand new to me, yet another example of the variety that manifests under the label ‘trail running’. Challenging technical ups, exhilarating downs, views as the sun rose, with arches to my left and the snow-peaked La Sal Mountains ahead, Utah instilled much gratitude for that which my body still allows me to do despite my visual limitations.

Limits are nonexistent along the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau.  Boasting more than 300 days of sun, crystal blue skies, little humidity,  and never ending trail options make it clear why Flagstaff is such a haven for the professional running scene. Though perhaps many still in hibernation, I embraced beautiful aspen groves on  deserted, undulating trails through high forest and open meadows overlooking Flagstaff. Getting myself to trail heads was somewhat disheartening without wheels however the urban connector trail made it easy for a cruise back into town from the Coconino forest.

Reluctant to spend extensive time and currency getting to trails, day trips to run in the sunshine that is Sedona and the grandest of all canyons along the Rim-to-Rim trail were eye brighteners worth the stretching my comfort zone and budget.

Mother Nature set an at times turbulent, yet more often, tranquil,  scene for my chapter in the USA. Amoung snow covered trails, sweltering sunshine, awe-inspiring aspens, between slick rocks and mountain tops is where I grow.  Storms come, storms pass, seasons change, day turns to night yet mountains continue to soar  – unfazed by what life throws at them. When I am challenging my unsettled mind, impaired vision and body on trails, I feel increasingly more connected to the powerful mountains; just as they are grounded, stable and resilient in any weather, I aim for acceptance and resilience while embracing the weather, the seasons, the trail my life has taken.  

Should you find yourself with a pair of trail shoes in the four-corner states area, I invite you into a glimpse of some trail highlights that allowed me to all but forget my visual impairment and nurture the mountains of my mind. I am working on a trail directory including routes, descriptions and pictures.  Stay tuned!

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  1. Tom Stevens says:

    I read Jills latest post at 5:00 AM before I left on a mountain bike ride deep into the wilderness above my Colorado ranch. I thought about her incredible writing ability and journey as the sun reached a small alpine lake where I parked my bike to continue my trek on foot. I’m Tom the friend she met high above Aspen, CO. She wanted a photo taken and we walked while I heard part of her story. Her disability, that she made into an ability, a life now filled with happiness and purpose, like all who meet her I was inspired. She mentioned that there would be no Olympic medals or World Cup trophies for her. I simply replied “You don’t need any.” It was obvious that she had far exceeded that type of public recognition. There are no medals for strength of character or fortitude. There is only inner piece, knowing you have conquered the mountains of your mind.

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thank you for our encouragement and affirmations from the Rockies Tom. Empathy and true friendship are worth more than any medal or World Cup. The mountains are certainly fostering my inner peace and , crossing trails with people such as yourself, helping me “see” the opportunities that have grown from adversity.