Without question, the banjo’s appeal can be quite limited. The sweet and simple twang of the metal strings plucked at an erratic and unconventional pace can immediately cause some listeners to cover their ears and scream. It doesn’t evoke the same mass appeal as an acoustic or electric guitar, but for those of us who hear the call of the wild in each pluck as it resonates out from the pot, our hearts begin to beat in tune.
Trail running has a similar appeal – although not all trail runners may appreciate the comparison.
If your eyes widen and your heart gets giddy when you see a mud-covered and rock-strewn trail, you are in the minority of runners. We don’t fit the pattern of the conventional. It is not normal in the modern era to look at a mountain and say, “I wonder how fast I could get up there and check out that view”. At least, not yet.
We’re all taking part in a burgeoning part of running culture. More and more, runners are finding the tight-knit communities of trail running appealing, and the mud-covered faces smiling from ear to ear welcoming. And even though we may look like the backcountry hillbillies of the mid-19th century when they see us sitting on the side of a trailhead, when they realize how much fun we’ve had they start creeping over to ask questions.
Between beers, or pop tarts, we’ll regale them with the story of why our legs are covered in bruises and blood – why are toenails look like they’re still painted black from an awkward goth phase in high school – and how we only slightly care about what time we finished in.
Some will listen with a growing look of disgust, their faces contorting and shaking, desperate to rid their minds of the images we so joyfully begin to embellish (just a little). Others’ eyes will pop, their minds picturing them tagging along on the next loop and chasing the breeze through the trees.
Our numbers are growing, but the reason is staying the same. There is a multitude of people out there who hear the call of the trails and their heart skips to the beat. Their nerves become plucked with the excitement of the unknown, or the revival of a youthful passion. With no guarantee what your rhythm or pace will be on a run as you struggle up and down a mountainside; embracing the utterly unconcerned nature of… well, nature, as it provides a rough and rugged route that doesn’t apply to a gentle stride, they fall in line and add to our melody. It takes an acceptance of the unexpected, an understanding of the ambivalence of the wild, to find the peace and tranquility on the trails we often seek to take home to our daily lives.
The value this offers is worth knowing, and we should always be welcoming to those who want to find it.
Covered in sweat and dirt, we should play our tunes through highs and lows, smiling as often as we can. And as our numbers continue to grow, as more people find their way into our midst, don’t be afraid to let your banjo twang in the wilderness. There are those out there who need to hear it. As for the others, well, they can decide what’s best for them when they hear our tune blaring through the trees and our mud-covered faces come charging toward them shouting “Sooooie!”