Trail Running: A Celebration of Body and Soul – An Interview with Abram Dickerson

Two years ago Abram Dickerson had a big idea.

The previous autumn he had completed a 34 mile run on the Copper Ridge Loop —a spectacularly scenic trail in North Cascades National Park — and the experience had left him wanting more. So Dickerson, a transplant to the Pacific Northwest from northern California, created Aspire Adventure Running, an organization dedicated to helping others experience the joy of long-distance running (without racing) in some of Cascadia’s most enthralling—and challenging—country.

Now in its third year, Aspire offers organized trail runs throughout the North Cascades and at Mount Rainier.

What is your background with trail running? 

I come to running by way of the wilderness. I am totally inspired and humbled by the juxtaposition of nature’s timelessness against my limited physicality and mental capacities. For years I ran for fitness and always in connection with – and preparation for – other wilderness objectives, most often climbing. It wasn’t until 2013, when a friend of mine suggested we run the Copper Ridge loop in the North Cascades that I embraced trail running as a primary means of movement and adventure.

This shift coincides with a particular season in my life.  As a father and husband I find myself balancing multiple roles and responsibilities. The increasing demands on my time have not lessened my love for adventure, but have shifted its expression. In trail running I find simplicity and accessibility. With increased fitness and physical capacity, trail running concentrates multiple days worth of wilderness travel into an ambitious but achievable single-day objective.  Endless miles of trails, remote mountains, and vast expanses of wilderness ensure a continual supply of motivation and satiates my craving for adventure. And it turns out that I’m a better parent and husband if I don’t disappear for days on end.IMG_5902 copy-2


What prompted you to start offering organized trail runs? 

While training for Copper Ridge, I made the decision that I didn’t want our run to be a once and done affair.  After running Copper Ridge, my friends and I spent lots of time looking at maps and envisioning lots of other alpine running routes. To capitalize on  their “line quality” (non-repetitive and exploratory nature), many of these runs needed to be point-to-point affairs.  This of course meant vehicle shuttles, group coordination, hitchhiking, key swapping, and lots of creative problem solving. These issues combined with the immediate craving for good food and drink as the crowning celebration of every adventure set the wheels in motion for envisioning what Aspire would become.

As the vision for a company grew, Aspire came to represent everything that motivated us as runner-climber-adventure-athletes: remote technical trails, wilderness travel, great camaraderie, good food, and a strong stewardship ethic.  Coming from a background that included wilderness guiding, it was easy for me to apply the principles of leading backpacking or climbing trips to the modality of trail running. I was surprised to learn that what we were offering was rather unique in the running community.  There are all kinds of races, relays, adventure challenges, and running distances, but hardly any companies focused on supporting remote objective-oriented trail runs.  The model for what we are doing already exists in other sports like white water rafting or supported bike touring.

How did you launch Aspire? 

Aspire developed a brand and identity in early 2015.  Lots of time and energy went into permits, risk management, and program organization.  We received our first permits with the Mt. Rainier National Park, The North Cascades National Park, and the Mt. Baker Wilderness in the spring of that year.  That summer we completed our first successful tours on the Wonderland Trail and the first ever organized trail running event/tour in the North Cascades National Park last September.

What makes an Aspire trail run unique? 

Abe w Truck FocusedAspire events are runs, not races. We don’t assign bib numbers, we don’t keep time, there’s no podium, and no competition.  Our runs are defined by destination and pure wilderness quality rather than pre-determined distances. We encourage our runners to enjoy their trail experiences by pausing to eat wild blueberries, jumping in an alpine lake, and not stressing as they hike the steep sections of trail.  Savoring the experience is expected and encouraged.

Our groups are small.  We strictly adhere to a 12-person group size when travelling in wilderness areas.  Runners travel at their own pace and often spread out over miles but are always “sandwiched” between two crew members in case of emergency.  This small group experience is intimate, friendly, and welcoming.  Our pre/post run food sessions build camaraderie and cohesion in intimate ways that can’t be achieved in even the smallest “race” venue.

Why choose to run in the North Cascades? 

The North Cascades are a sacred and wild space. Experiencing these mountains as a runner with such simplicity and physicality honors the legacy and purpose of dedicated wilderness spaces. These mountains are humbling and inspiring. 

What can participants expect from an Aspire event in terms of logistics? 

Our courses begin in population centers far from the actual trailhead.  We meet our runners in the morning with a light breakfast and shuttle runners to the trailhead.  After a course overview and safety orientation, runners travel the route at their own pace, often in small groups or pairs, to the trail’s end where we have food and drinks waiting. Once the full group arrives in camp, Aspire serves gourmet meals and the real feasting begins.

Aspire provides all the chairs, heaters, tents, and gear to ensure that this time is warm, celebratory, and rejuvenating.  After the festivities, the Aspire crew transports runners and their gear back to vehicles.  If a trip is a multi-day affair, then the same support and crew extends to a second, third, or fourth day.

We have a great team. The Aspire crew is comprised of individuals who have been deeply and profoundly influenced by wilderness.  Each is an experienced guide, holds current first aid certifications, is a capable runner, a lover of good food, and passionate about their work.

Hit the Trail this Summer!

Aspire Adventure Trail Runs for 2017:

  • Hannegan Peak July 22
  • Excelsior Traverse July 29
  • Wonderland Trail August 2-5
  • Wonderland Trail August 9-12
  • Skyline Divide August 19
  • Ptarmigan Ridge August 26
  • Thunder Series September 8-9
  • Whatcom Passage September 22-23

More info:

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