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Forego the Formula

featuring Josh Barringer

An ultrarunner / scientist / writer / baker / metal guitarist born and raised in Louisiana but now living at the edge of the wilderness in British Columbia, Josh has a unique perspective on writing, running, and time in the mountains.

The moving target of success, however one defines it, rarely follows a set system. After completing a master’s degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Josh began his career developing synthetic DNA and blood-based cancer diagnostic arrays. He now is the writer of all things at Arc’teryx – from campaign headlines to travel running blogs. But a career shift of that magnitude was not expected and certainly went against any formulaic approach.

. . . On Life and Loafs

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Kierkegard 

 

If someone told me 15 years ago where I’d be today and what I’d be doing, I would honestly struggle to believe them. In 2005, I was entering Clemson University to begin my journey towards a PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Now, I live in Beautiful British Columbia and am the writer for Arc’teryx.

It’s a life I don’t know if I could have even dreamt of, but I knew I needed to follow my passions, and whatever doors or windows looked like they might crack open. After completing my degree, I packed up and drove across the country to start a metal band and held a series of jobs in biotech before realizing the life of a scientist might not be for me.

Working in a lab taught me to experiment, that in order to develop something new and unique, you have to start with known variables creating a known outcome and begin tweaking. Now the kitchen has become my laboratory.

Sourdough bread is a wonderful thing. It’s a process of appreciation; just a few simple ingredients can be transformed through effort, patience and attention. The same ingredients don’t always produce the same outcomes. This is also true of a long run or the journey of life.

Both baking and running rest on knowing a few basic skills and techniques. Once you get those down, you’re free – to explore beyond the formula, to ask “what do you dare to desire?”

. . . On Mountains and Music

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” – Csikszentmihalyi

 

Imagine if mountains were placed in a grid system like buildings in a city. I don’t think they’d be as intriguing. Each one unique, but self-contained. I admire the connectivity of mountains – ridgelines, slopes, and valleys. It’s a playful and interesting spectacle.

Like mountain landscapes, classical music and metal are composed of multiple features creating a singular scape. Music that doesn’t follow a formula tends to garner more attention, a second listen; consider Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody or the delightful mix of spoken word poetry and aggressive guitars of Silent Planet.

That’s not to say limitations and focus are not helpful, though. Chopin’s etudes essentially revolutionized piano. The Human Abstract’s Digital Veil, written as couplets of etudes, redefined progressive metal. An etude is a challenging musical piece centered on one particular skill, aimed at mastery.

Like etudes, efficiently running in the mountains requires practice and repetition. I used to race a lot. Well, more honestly, I showed up to events to hone nutrition and push myself. It sometimes ended in success. A race is extremely limiting – a set distance, a defined route – but allows for exploration of other variables. Racing might not be a current focus for me, but they are instrumental in opening up the possibilities of the mountains.

. . . On Words and Wilderness

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Thurman 

 

It’s still weird to consider myself a writer. In college, I wrote lyrics for my metal band. I kept a running blog of race reports and adventures with friends, read mostly by family. But I learned through the years that I process by writing. It forces me to be intentional with my words and to face my thoughts—happy or otherwise.

I like puns. They’re always surprising, unexpected. The delivery of a pun is key. The pause, the anticipation. The more someone rolls their eyes, the better I know the pun is. An exasperated sigh is a crowning achievement.

The wilderness, like a pun, is full of the unexpected, an anticipation of the unknown. A couple of years ago, a friend and I set out to run the northern coast of Vancouver Island: the North Coast Trail. We were granted access even though the trail was not officially open yet, meaning there were no rangers, no known trail conditions, no confirmation on cable car function and most intriguing, no other people.

Researching and understanding the route beforehand was integral to knowing which sections required speed to overcome a tidal impasse. Miss that timing, and we’d be at the mercy of the wild and incredibly challenging and lengthy rescue operations. This pushed our speed and our limits.

About halfway, we happened upon a few wolves, majestic and haunting. Our paths ran concurrently for a while until the pack rejoined, annoyed. The alpha rushed forward and barked warnings as the pack joined in unison. It was quick, but in the moment of pouring rain, shaking legs, and a defense of a bear banger and knife, it felt like an eternity.

That moment has stayed with me. The chill in the rain-filled air. The sound of stones shifting under wolves paws. It was an unexpected glimpse into the rawness of the wild, the frailty of being human, and the feeling of being alive.