The Canyon Spoke…or how I learned to Balance

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The canyon speaks. The instructions to life are there if I listen.

I drive through the Texas Panhandle and the sea of grass is broken up only by a barbed wire fence and the occasional one traffic light towns. If you happen on just the right two lane road, you may just catch a glimpse of Palo Duro Canyon.

I have been going there since I was a five year old kid. We would camp. We would play. We would watch the production of TEXAS! In that inspiring amphitheater.   I still see the cowboy riding that white stallion along the ridge of the canyon.  Silhouetted by the sun, the horse would gallop and the cowboy wielded the Texas flag, that Lone Star and all it symbolized. You never forget your first trip to the canyon.  Never.

I have been back several times.   As a youth, we camped there with my Scout Troop.   As a family we would return from time to time. After graduating high school, it would be several years before I would make it back.

It was to run a 50 mile ultra-marathon one brisk October Morning. I stood listening to a bagpipe player play amazing grace.  The sound echoed of the canyon walls in the predawn morning.  The canyon always exists, in my mind, on each end of the extremes.   As the sun creeps over the eastern edge of the canyon, the beauty took my mind to my Maker in heaven…. as I begin to prepare to take my body through the depths of hell.

There was no balance. That morning was on the edge of freezing.  That afternoon, the mercury rose above 90 degrees.  In retrospect, that day was a microcosm for areas of my life.  To live as close to the edge as possible, all or nothing.  Extreme.

Only 9 months earlier, I existed to work and sit on the couch. Now shivering in the predawn chill, I was in the best physical condition of my life.  A normal existence was not possible.  Do not run a marathon.  Run two, back to back, off road.  My training was on the edge as well.  Some Friday evenings, I would run all night long.  I would run 8 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday and total over 50 miles in those two days.  The laser focus and intensity called for one thing…to train, always on the edge.  In my mind, if I wasn’t training, I was losing ground.

I never missed any one of my children’s events. More than once I would be on a ball field coaching at 8:00 A.M. after running all night.  Regardless of being present, always, somewhere in the back of my mind, was the training; the event.

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For six years I lived on that ragged edge of The Extreme. I have no regrets. I loved it.  But as the kids got older, it became ever more difficult.  Do not allow me to pretend I had balance.  As the edge begins to crumble, one realizes that balance was only an illusion.  The providence of God began to change things that mandated a schedule change.  Work out intensities waned.  Work out partners came and went.  The long Saturday cardio sessions went from 8 hours to 6…then to 5. My 1000 rep leg days (where I would close out the workout with three sets of fifty reps, leg pressing 450 lbs) were no longer.   That ragged edge I lived on cratered.

The Lighthouse formation in Palo Duro Canyon is iconic. The hike is only 5 miles from the main road.  But once you get close to the formation, it becomes perilous.  You carefully shuffle around, feet on the edge.  Many don’t make this last few hundred meters because of the potential danger.  If you lose your balance, chances are you may be helicoptered to the nearest trauma center.  The payoff for those who overcome fear and timidity, a view that humbly acknowledges a Higher Power.  Thousands of years of eroding away presents a photograph of epic beauty. And the key:  Balance.  Yes, in a land of extremes, true balance to take you the place to enjoy what is beautiful.

I had made a conscience effort to introduce real balance within my training. Many hours I felt broken. I would tell myself how I was a shell of my formal self.  I would question my ability after only a 2 hour run. I would question my identity.  I would question my purpose.   The struggle was real.  The struggle was intense.  The struggle was required.

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Real balance of life began to evolve. So did the metamorphosis of what I thought of myself.  I became a better husband and father.  Despite my Herculean efforts not to let training encroach on the family, it did.  Balance in my life was a mirage.  If I continued to shuffle along the edge as I had for the past 6 years, there would be a world of regrets.

Those past six years eroded me down to something that was better than before and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Pages can be written on how hours of solitude revitalize one’s spirit.  But the paradox of the intense training had transformed me to be one dimensional. Interest I had been passionate about had been placed down in the cellar and only existed in the dark corners of my mind.  I hardly read much.  I didn’t write.   Performing magic was a lifetime ago.  It was not the season of my life to pour so much energy into such epic goals while sons and daughters cheered me on from the sidelines. Oh, one day I may return.  And maybe from time to time, train for an event.  But for now, I cannot let it consume me.

Balance allowed these other passions to come back alive.  But more important, I was living in the moment with my family. Going to all day wrestling tournaments, softball games, band concerts and being in that moment.  Those days will soon be looked upon as only memories.

Now, I train only 5 times a week and my Saturday workouts are down to about two hours. Yes, I still have to fight back insecurities of when I contemplate, “where I use to be.”  I have to say with the balance it took to softly tread around the edge, it was where I found real joy…. Where I saw the beauty of my life in the  moment….and I have to remind myself of the balance every day…up to the Light House, so that He can show me something epic…and that something epic had to be worn down a bit to reveal its beauty.   So the Canyon spoke.

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Landry Lockett has been a friend for a long long time. My grandmother taught his dad in elementary school.   In small town Texas, that means we ran around and played…and caused a little trouble along the way.  He is a family man with a beautiful wife and three kids.  He has his PhD in something to do with farming.  His blood is Texas red dirt in color.  His roots run deep into the heart of Texas.  He loves Jesus, he loves the outdoors…and he loves Texas.  He has become a photographer that people have begun to talk about…in a good way.  He captures Americana, Farming, Ranching and the extremes of Texas.  All these photos are from Palo Duro Canyon and taken by Landry.  I encourage you to go to http://www.palodurocreative.com/ and check out his work.  Thank you and you welcome.  

One thought on “The Canyon Spoke…or how I learned to Balance

  1. Great stuff here, Dave! Thanks for your raw honesty. The Canyon is full of extremes and so are we, but full of grace and beauty just the way God made us. We often find balance by getting out of balance. Praise God that there is grace, mercy, and joy in the journey.

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