The Way There: Why We Create and Seek Out Trails

Meaghen Brown  /  4 Min Read  /  Trail Running

Professional orienteer and wilderness advocate Hanny Allston runs near one of the entry points to the takayna / Tarkine region. Photo: Mikey Schaefer

It starts with the focal beam of a headlamp. Sunrise is more than an hour away and it’s pouring rain. Hands tucked into the sleeves of a jacket, and the pace already quick through the sharp Tasmanian buttongrass—trying to stay warm. There is an urgency to understand this threatened place, to know takayna / Tarkine as intimately as possible while its future remains in question—to know what the absence would feel like if it disappeared.

Australia is a place that compels long-distance travel, and the species that live there have evolved to do it well. Kangaroos have been recorded traveling 200 miles in under 10 hours; they store fat in their tails to be used when resources are scarce. Tasmanian devils can cover over 18 miles in a single night in search of food.

This perpetual movement of species creates a system of trails that is both physically and historically recorded on earth’s landscape. Scientists in Newfoundland are studying the fossil records of 565 million-year-old animal trails, which are thought to be evidence of the earliest form of locomotion.

Humans, too, write their patterns on the landscape.

The Aboriginal Australians believe that the world was sung into existence and thus holds a system of paths across the land, called songlines, which are learned through the repetition of words. By repeating these songs in the appropriate order, it is possible to traverse vast distances across the continent without ever having known the way. As author Robert Moor wrote in his book On Trails, “The land grows to contain not just resources, but stories.”

There are songlines across the takayna / Tarkine and an ancient history that resonates across the landscape. On this trail, it’s felt and learned with every step.

takayna / Tarkine contains Australia’s largest remaining single tract of temperate rainforest. Photo: Mikey Schaefer

takayna / Tarkine contains Australia’s largest remaining single tract of temperate rainforest. Photo: Mikey Schaefer

What is this impulse to cover great distances?

Biologists will tell you that the individual decision to move is based primarily on immediate needs—food, escape, sex, learning, not necessarily in that order. From the caribou to the Arctic tern, some species aspire to go farther, whether it’s to find a mate or simply see what is beyond the next mountain range. Why do certain species move in familiar patterns?

The more familiar the pattern, the less energy is expended in pursuit of these resources. And the ability to move only increases the odds of achievement. According to writer Bruce Chatwin, a salmon knows the taste of its ancestral river, and birds that fly at night can determine the contours of the ground below by bouncing their calls down to earth and catching the echo on the way back. This familiarity is the connection that gets passed on through generations.

The Aboriginal Australians are not alone in their intricate relationship to landscape and movement. The Cherokee once chose guides from members of their tribe who were tasked with finding the best paths through the landscape. The Blackfeet made sacred journeys from Canada to Mexico along “the backbone of the world,” or the modern-day Continental Divide. Tendai Buddhist monks still run 1,000 marathons in 1,000 days around Mount Hiei in order to achieve enlightenment. These are the journeys that extend beyond basic need to a spiritual and metaphorical connection with movement and with land.

Meaghen Brown pilots her way through the takayna / Tarkine wilderness in Tasmania. Photo: Mikey Schaefer

Meaghen Brown pilots her way through the takayna / Tarkine wilderness in Tasmania. Photo: Mikey Schaefer

It’s been hours now. The rain has stopped, and the early spring sun is warm on exposed skin. A few land leeches cling on, picked up somewhere along the trail. The trails through the takayna / Tarkine are still at risk. But the suspended reality of being here extends well beyond the pause for breath and the return home.

Movement through a landscape is the best way to learn a place. And knowing that landscape, falling in love with it, only intensifies the desire to protect it.

This story first appeared in the Patagonia 2018 Summer catalog

takayna

takayna / Tarkine in northwestern Tasmania is home to one of the last undisturbed tracts of ancient rainforest in the world, and one of the highest concentrations of Aboriginal archaeology in the southern hemisphere. Yet this place is currently threatened by logging and mining. Our new film takayna, weaves together the narratives of activists, a trail running doctor and the Aboriginal community to unpack the complexities of modern conservation and challenge us to consider the importance of our last truly wild places.

 Patagonia is partnering with the Bob Brown Foundation and the Aboriginal community and calling for the Tasmanian Government to nominate the Tarkine for World Heritage protection.

Sign the petition

Related Stories

If You Love It, Run for It: Dispatch from the Inaugural Takayna Ultramarathon
Krissy Moehl reports from the inaugural takayna ultramarathon “There are no footprints.” Fellow Patagonia ambassador and New Zealand native Grant Guise voiced what I was thinking. Our headlamps and phone lights dimly illuminated the overgrown double-track from Rebecca Road. “If 100 people are starting a race in five minutes, we would see footprints,” he said…
Krissy Moehl reports from the inaugural takayna ultramarathon “There are no footprints.” Fellow Patagonia ambassador and New Zealand native Grant Guise voiced what I was thinking. Our headlamps and phone lights dimly illuminated the overgrown double-track from Rebecca Road. “If 100 people are starting a race in five minutes, we would see footprints,” he said…
Krissy Moehl
14 min Read
Tracing the Edge – Episode 10 with Krissy Moehl, plus a Look Behind the Scenes
This is it. Tracing the Edge concludes today with our final episode featuring ultrarunner Krissy Moehl. Kick back and enjoy. You can catch all 10 episodes of Tracing the Edge at patagonia.com/tracingtheedge or on YouTube via the Tracing the Edge playlist. A lot of hard work happens behind the scenes of a series like this.…
This is it. Tracing the Edge concludes today with our final episode featuring ultrarunner Krissy Moehl. Kick back and enjoy. You can catch all 10 episodes of Tracing the Edge at patagonia.com/tracingtheedge or on YouTube via the Tracing the Edge playlist. A lot of hard work happens behind the scenes of a series like this.…
The Dirtbag Diaries
4 min Read
Tracing the Edge – Episode 7 with Krissy Moehl
Is it possible to live an entire life in a single day? Ultrarunner Krissy Moehl has while racing. Massive 100-mile courses contain a lifetime of joy, tedium and wonder concentrated into 24 hours. For Krissy, her biggest races are touchstones in her life, a moment to process life's ups and downs. The next episode of…
Is it possible to live an entire life in a single day? Ultrarunner Krissy Moehl has while racing. Massive 100-mile courses contain a lifetime of joy, tedium and wonder concentrated into 24 hours. For Krissy, her biggest races are touchstones in her life, a moment to process life's ups and downs. The next episode of…
1 min Read
Jenn Shelton’s FFFKT (Fastest Fish Fourteener Known Time)
*Fastest Fish Fourteener Known Time I picked it up on a whim at the ranger station in Bishop 2012. I was there finagling a permit that would look more or less legal for my attempt to break the men’s speed record across the John Muir Trail starting the next day. And there it was in…
*Fastest Fish Fourteener Known Time I picked it up on a whim at the ranger station in Bishop 2012. I was there finagling a permit that would look more or less legal for my attempt to break the men’s speed record across the John Muir Trail starting the next day. And there it was in…
Jenn Shelton
16 min Read
Introducing “Training for the Uphill Athlete” by Steve House
In his new book, Training for the Uphill Athlete, Steve House joins forces with coach Scott Johnston and athlete Kílian Jornet to develop a comprehensive approach to finding the joy and the payoff of intense training effort. Even lunges. The wind had made its presence known all night, the tiny tent shaking off its layer…
In his new book, Training for the Uphill Athlete, Steve House joins forces with coach Scott Johnston and athlete Kílian Jornet to develop a comprehensive approach to finding the joy and the payoff of intense training effort. Even lunges. The wind had made its presence known all night, the tiny tent shaking off its layer…
Steve House
6 min Read
Generations of a Diné Family Reflect on Running
Some time in the northern corner of the Diné reservation helps clarify why this question is so hard to answer. A girl wakes and runs toward the light, her dark hair streaming behind her as she races in the direction of the rising sun. She hears the prayers of her family and friends as her…
Some time in the northern corner of the Diné reservation helps clarify why this question is so hard to answer. A girl wakes and runs toward the light, her dark hair streaming behind her as she races in the direction of the rising sun. She hears the prayers of her family and friends as her…
Meaghen Brown
7 min Read
Seven Recommendations for Trail Racing and Training
Patagonia is thrilled to publish Steve House and Scott Johnston’s second training book, Training for the Uphill Athlete, for which they teamed up with world-class endurance athlete Kílian Jornet. This is an excerpt from the book, now available in Patagonia stores, on Patagonia.com, and at your favorite bookstore or online distributor. I race a lot:…
Patagonia is thrilled to publish Steve House and Scott Johnston’s second training book, Training for the Uphill Athlete, for which they teamed up with world-class endurance athlete Kílian Jornet. This is an excerpt from the book, now available in Patagonia stores, on Patagonia.com, and at your favorite bookstore or online distributor. I race a lot:…
Kílian Jornet
4 min Read
A Very Large, Long Group Run Through the Bob Marshall Wilderness
For the slo-mo, bug-bitten, exhausted joy of really long runs. Time expands and compresses on long runs. Moments of navigation or extended discomfort can seem endless, while the landscape sifts by like a slow-moving picture. And then suddenly it’s been hours that slipped by without you noticing, except for the subtle changes in light and…
For the slo-mo, bug-bitten, exhausted joy of really long runs. Time expands and compresses on long runs. Moments of navigation or extended discomfort can seem endless, while the landscape sifts by like a slow-moving picture. And then suddenly it’s been hours that slipped by without you noticing, except for the subtle changes in light and…
Meaghen Brown
2 min Read
Popular searches