Updated: Mar 6
Like the sudden onset of an Ice Age, our planet is frozen with fear. Businesses have shut down. People have lost their jobs. Gyms have closed. In many parts of Europe, running has been banned. Fines range from 100 to 600,000 Euros, according to Talk Ultra's Ian Corless. One line of thinking among many is that if you were to fall and crack open your head, you would tax an already overwhelmed hospital or medical provider.
So, we all go back to our cave.
But before we huddle in front of the TV in fear and trepidation all day and watch numbers rise and others fall, maybe we remember that caves were once sacred spaces. From the ritual rites of Lascoux to the muses of the Corycian Cave of Greece, these isolated spaces pushed away the outside world and forced us in: sometimes the place we resist going to the most.
While we are all alone in our homes (as in our own bodies and minds), we can share knowledge, learn from those who've been in relative situations in the past and help open one another to open up to the mysteries of the human experience. We have unimaginable access to the thoughts of others through their words. "When there is no battle to be fought," someone once told me, "sharpen the sword." Below are some reading suggestions to consider and some links to free chapters of not only my own writing but of others that are easily available on the web:
Henry David Thoreau's two-year self isolation on the edge of Walden pond will take you into a personal account of a writer who whittled down the noise of life to the bare necessities. He shares the nuts and bolts of how to live, stay sane, and find deeper meaning in the nature around us.
Hiro Onooda was a Japanese soldier who never knew the war had ended. For 30 years he lived in the jungles of the Philippines in isolation. His story is a gripping account of the mindset it takes to persevere through loneliness and uncertainty.
Forget the 2017 film with a 52% Rotten Tomato score. In fact, forget the excellent 1973 film with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The book is a treasure. Go into the life of a man sentenced to one of the most brutal and inhumane prisons in history: Devil's Island. Read how he dealt with multiple years of isolation in a tiny cell with no light, no sound (speaking was prohibited for guards and prisoners in "reclusion," French for solitary confinement), yet found a way to keep his mind and body alive. Even after dozens of failed escape attempts, he never lost his will to find freedom.
For a similar account that predates Henri Charrière's tale, and one that is spotless in its authenticity, try René Belbenoît's "Dry Guillotine." If you can find it.
The Long Walk: The true story of a trek to freedom
While there have been doubts as to the veracity of Sławomir Rawicz's claim to have escaped a Russian gulag and walked 4,000 miles to British India, the claim was recounted by several other members of what was believed to have been a small band that did just that. The book is a fascinating tale. Let the inner investigator take a nap and go on a very, very long walk to freedom.
This is one of a plethora of "Gulag" stories. These are always ripe for reading when locked in the home for extended periods, no matter the reason.
Speaking of long distances and isolation and perseverance, here are some chapter samples you can read for free. Some are from my own work, while others you may know or want to know.
In Search of Al Howie
I spent two years interviewing one of the most enigmatic and prolific mega-distance runners the planet has ever seen. What kind of mindset does it take to run 5,800 miles in 103 days? Who runs 1,000 miles to a race, wins it, then runs 1,000 miles back? The story of Al Howie is a remarkable and at times unbelievable adventure into the heart of the longest races in the world with one of modern history’s most eccentric ultra-marathon runners. Delve into the mind of a man on the run from Interpol and his own demons, who couldn't find a road long enough to reach running Nirvana.
Touching the Void
One of the best climbing, survival books of all time. Joe Simpson's quest to survive a certain-death accident atop one nasty peak in the Andes called Siula Grande, is a masterpiece. He takes you, in an extremely personal manner, into his climb, his fall, his isolation in an ice cave, to the inner depths he roamed in his spirit as his life hung in the balance. There is much insight to be gleaned by his survival strategies, especially his tiny, mental goals to keep going.
Herman Melville's first novel and one of his most popular in his life is an autobiographical telling of Melville's time living with a tribe of Cannibals on the island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. It's a riveting experience, relived with the colorful phrasing of one of our greatest writers. As a westerner among "primitives," he explores the isolation we feel when we cannot communicate, while also digging into the myth that makes these peoples some of the most misunderstood in the world. Who is the savage? Us or them?
Born to Run
If you are one of the few that hasn't read it, here is a free chapter excerpt. It's a thrilling account of finding the inner runner in us all. Fact filled and wittily written, it will make you want to get out and run around your neighborhood. If that is legal where you are at the moment, it could be the start of new addiction - a healthy one at that!!
Follow Scott Jurek, one of the greatest 100-milers to ever run, and his wife and handler Jenn, as together they tackle the speed record on the Appalachian Trail. Instead of attempting the faster route from North to South, they choose a tougher challenge: to head North.