Shadows Lead the Way

Posted by Roark on

Words by Travis Weller

Photos by Drew Smith

the lost and found collection

a ciele athletics x RUN AMOK joint adventure

They found themselves in Tahiti, deep in the jungle with barely an inkling of where they might be or where they should go. Perfectly lost on a long run with only the essentials and a few friends.

When nightfall descends upon you in the jungle, it’s the kind of darkness you fade into. It’s like a sensory deprivation tank filled with a tangle of growth you need to mentally stride through. As daylight disappeared below the remnants of the dissected shield volcano our ramble on the sheer, sweltering slopes between Mt. Mou’aroa and Mt. Tohi'e'a deviated from a spirited scamper along the knife-edge ridgeline to a tactile tiptoe amongst lunging roots and fronds.

We disembarked the ferry from Tahiti to Mo’orea with wide eyes as we took in the infinite beauty of the island with soaring towers of magmatic rock covered in a blanket of green. Our intention while guests on this vibrant Mā’ohi land was to lace our shoes and see where the path leads us. It would become the perfect setting to turn off, tune out and drop in.

Rolling out of our bunks to a melody of roosters and songbirds, sky just showing its first hints of color, we quickly stuffed our packs with the essentials and were out the door with the rising sun. The early miles provided us a brief respite from the scorching heat that would soon join us for the remainder of the day. Along the coastal road locals were setting up tables to sell fruit from their bountiful trees. We stopped by a small stand shaded under a hefty mango tree for some needed sustenance. Communicating through hand signals, smiles and laughter we eventually bought some bananas, avocado and mango for the day but not before our bellies were generously filled by the kindest of souls. Feeling revitalized we gave thanks and headed away from the coastline and upward towards the towering peaks.

Entering the jungle we were welcomed with steep paths snaking through a dense green labyrinth. Running in this environment requires a deeper physical and mental connection with the land that must be met with respect and gratitude. The jungle is not designed to be passed through quickly. It's like a downtempo dance with nature, and if the energies of the wanderer and nature are in sync, it’s deserving of a standing ovation. We continued skyward across cascading creeks and through fallen trees while inside a canopy of thick, dormant air. Approaching the saddle between the two sharp peaks we were momentarily granted open views of the lush Ōpūnohu Valley leading north towards Mt. Rotui. Proceeding higher the path dissolved under our soggy feet as we crawled over and under the final barriers of the maze. Reaching the vertical summit walls of Mt. Tohi'e'a it became apparent that our upward journey had concluded. There is very little information available on a summit route and it was clear why. With the spirit to continue and the awareness to descend we acknowledged the mountain and headed down.

With daylight waning the jungle began its twilight transformation. Night crawlers emerge and adorn the exaggerated morass of root, frond and rock. Once all shadows disappear spatial perceptions are rendered useless. Our rhythm with the mountain slows to a tempo set aside for the most poetic of dances. The energy of the jungle becomes more powerful with each passing minute, electrifying our senses. I feel the rush of a cold chill pass through my body and the hair on my arms standing tall. Maybe it's fear entering my psyche or an invisible shadow passing through. Drained from the hours spent moving within this complex ecosystem, our headlamps hurriedly shine light beams into the mystic forest looking for our exit. We eventually find our way back to where our adventure began and as we cheers the last of our Hinano's the same chill from the jungle revisits me and this time I can be certain it's not derived by fear. In this moment it became clear that this journey was not intended to follow an observable path, but instead an omen to patiently allow shadows to lead the way.