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Photography by Avery Stonich

Time in the Wild Restores Your Spirit

Do you ever feel like you need a good dose of the outdoors to clear the clutter from your head? Last week I was feeling scattered. Endless deadlines, to-do lists, and obligations had been filling my waking hours, leaving little time to get grounded and recharge. I’m sure you can relate. Luckily, I gather with family in Sedona, Arizona, each year for Thanksgiving. It’s usually just what’s needed to take the edge off life’s hectic pace.

If you’ve never been to this desert paradise, add it to your list. Sedona is truly one of the wonders of Earth. Its signature red rocks rise in all directions, casting a peaceful glow on rolling pinyon- and juniper-covered hills. New-agey types say the area’s unique energy comes from many vortexes that dot the area. I’m not sure I buy into that, but there is something undoubtedly special about this place.

Almost immediately after arriving, I feel my harried brain start to slow, and my favorite run, up Boynton Canyon, calls my name. This trail is magical, climbing at a perfect running grade to the end of an unbelievably gorgeous box canyon. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it touches something deep within me, restoring my spirit.

As soon as I set foot on the trail, my soul resets. Finally I’m alone—away from the demands of everyday life and free to surrender to the moving meditation of my footsteps. I drink in the surroundings and open my heart and mind to receive whatever the trail offers. I know it well, but this canyon reveals a new character each day. Shifting light and seasons show me she has many moods.

The trail starts out as a dry, sandy wash, bordered by tangled manzanita bushes, whose smooth, gnarly red branches stretch to catch the sun. It’s hot and dry, warming me and my muscles as I settle in for the ride.

Slowly the canyon narrows, red rock closing in on either side. Sunlight becomes scarce. The towering ramparts offer just a brief window of day for rays to reach the forest floor. The cool air currents that drain down the riverbed are a far cry from the hot, dry drafts that caress the canyon walls.

As I immerse into the cold, damp air, I find myself in the midst of oak shrubs. Their leaves coat the trail in a dappled carpet of faded yellow, pale tan and soft pink—a muted palette that suggests the foliage has begun to return nutrients to the earth. I tread lightly, feeling my spirit lift as my feet dance along the soft path.

Finally I arrive at the end of the canyon—my church—and pay homage to the walls that soar above me. I’ve climbed to the top of the red sandstone layer and now peer up at brilliant white stone. The far rock face wears a vertical black ribbon, the stain of a rushing waterfall from seasons passed.

It’s amazing. I started this run as a wound-up, stressed-out mortal. A mere 45 minutes later, I’m renewed. Out here, I’m comforted by the soft sound of the wind in the trees, the rustle of birds as they gather a feast, and the raw feeling of being alive—far removed from the sensory overload that is too often life.

It reminds me: Adventure doesn’t have to mean a long trek to a foreign land. It’s always waiting for you wherever you choose to find it. After this run, I’ll dive back into the throes of life, but I’ll carry a peaceful serenity to sustain me. This is why having a network of open spaces—from neighborhood parks, to municipal trails, all the way to pristine areas like the wilderness where I now stand—is so important. We all need to be able to get outside and reset our souls. I’m grateful that someone had the foresight to set aside this precious place.

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich