As I reflect on 2014 I think back to the extraordinary experiences that I shared with friends and family and the time I took to slow down and enjoy life.  Last year brought me closer to the ones I love and built me into a stronger person and athlete.  I’m looking forward to 2015 and have only one goal, to live life to the fullest.  Every day.  I don’t exactly know what that means yet or where it will lead me, but the path will become apparent with time, and I will follow it.

For me, 2014 was the year of the cornfield. Yeah, I know in the Chinese tradition 2014 was the year of the horse…but I’m not from China, am I? I’m from Indiana. Therefore, I declare that, for me at least, 2014 was the year of the cornfield.

Why? Simple. I spent a whole lot of time in cornfields this year…let me explain.

This year I went from a rent paying tenant, to a couch surfing bum, to rent free van dweller. The transition wasn’t easy or overnight, but it was worth it. The process of ridding myself of virtually all physical possessions was both challenging and liberating, leading me one step closer to what I consider “freedom” with each visit to Goodwill. Eventually I owned only what I could fit in my Honda Element and I moved in. My first few nights as a van dweller were spent next to cornfields along Interstate 40 as I drove across the country to spend part of my vagabond summer at home in Indiana. I remember the first few mornings waking up in my car in roadside Denny’s parking lots, looking out across the vast cornfields of America’s Midwest. In these cornfields I learned that you can do whatever you want to do, even if everyone else tells you it’s a stupid idea, laughs at your plans, and tells you that you’re crazy.

Chris Tarzan Clemens 2014 - Everything I Own
Everything I own packed in my new home, my Honda Element

During my vagabond summer I spent time in a cornfield in a very unlikely location, Death Valley. In July I rendezvoused with a few of my crazy running friends to help crew two of them 146 miles from Badwater to the top of Mount Whitney. It was a wild 60+ hours, full of sweat, ice, and adventure. I watched as my running idols suffered immense challenges with no sane reason to push on, yet they did. Step after step, they neared the goal on top of Mount Whitney, where after spending days in 130 degree temperatures we almost froze to death after getting stuck overnight on the top of the lower 48’s tallest mountain. Somewhere between Badwater and Mount Whitney I found myself in a somewhat familiar place, standing in the middle of “Devils Cornfield”, which regardless of the name, does not look much like a cornfield at all. In that cornfield I learned that with focused determination, and a few close friends, anything is possible.  Just take it one step at a time.

Hanging out in a different type of cornfield in Death Valley
Hanging out in a different type of cornfield in Death Valley

I spent 5 weeks of my summer surrounded by cornfields on my mom’s farm in Indiana. I left home in 2002 to go to college, and in the 12 years since I had spent maybe 5 weeks total on the farm. I worked for my company in California at my mom’s dining room table, taking calls on my cell phone and emailing from my laptop. When I wasn’t working I spent good quality time with my family and even started my big project of the year; remove the two back seats from my Honda Element and build a full time living quarters for myself. The first night home my mom said “Now, don’t tell me you’re going to go back to California and be like those surfer bums who live in their vans down by the beach!” “Well, no mom…I’ll be more like those ultrarunning bums living in my van down by the beach or near any trail head I can find! Plus, I’ll be living rent free!” We moved the Honda into the barn next to the combine that would later be harvesting the corn and set to work. After several weeks of construction, mostly my step-dad Tom’s work, I had a finished product and I moved all my belongings in and headed back west to spend time with my Dad’s family in Arizona before returning to California.  Again, I cruised through the cornfields of the Midwest, sleeping in rest stops, and waking up to the shocks of corn being illuminated by the golden sunrise of the Midwest summer. In that cornfield in Indiana I learned the value of asking for help from people close to me who have the skills to help me achieve my goals.

Moving into my Honda Element Home
Moving into my Honda Element Home

Before leaving Indiana I did something that a few years ago I never thought possible. I completed a 100 mile running race. I had registered on New Year’s Eve 2013 between mugs of beer at the pub. Eight months later my friends and family joined me in Cleveland, Ohio for the Burning River 100. I took off and experienced plenty of highs and lows along the 100+ mile course. At one point during the night around mile 80 my pacer and I turned a corner on the trail and burst into cornfield. “What!? You’ve gotta be kidding me, are you sure we’re still on the course?” I yelled.  Yup, we were. “I’ve run 80 miles and now I have to run though a stinking cornfield, you’ve gotta be kidding me!” I spent the next 20 miles and several hours sinking lower into the dark abyss of my head, spending more time and energy complaining about my lot in life than focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, promising my pacer that I’d “get my life in order” at the proverbial next aid station. I never did, and my pacers and crew were saints for putting up with my bitching and getting me to the finish. Ultimately, I let the pain get the best of me. I should have expected it, and then managed it positively, and maybe then I would have crossed the finish line in under 24 hours. Instead, I missed my goal by a mere 15 minutes. In those dark, godforsaken cornfields in Northern Ohio, I learned about my weaknesses and how most of life is how you react to the world around you. From those cornfields I strengthened my mental toughness as a runner and ended the year placing well in the remaining ultramarathons I ran, mostly because I was too darn tough to let the pain get inside my head again.

Team Clemens at the Burning River 100 Mile Run
Team Clemens at the Burning River 100 Mile Run

As it would happen, cornfields also played a key role in my love life. Sometime during the summer, as I was gallivanting around the United States running, living in my car, and visiting family, I made a connection with someone from my past, someone who I sort of knew about in college, but never really had a personal relationship with. I became aware that she was following my adventures online, and then I fell hard when she took her own leap of faith to begin a life changing adventure of her own. She quit her corporate job, left Indiana to spend a month in Mexico for yoga teacher training, and had the goal of traveling the world teaching yoga. I was in love. I sent her a message and our conversations never stopped. Brittany May returned to Indiana from Mexico for 3 weeks before I booked a one way flight and drove her across the country to join me in California. The World’s Craziest First Date kicked off at the Indianapolis Airport and lead us 2,200 miles west across America’s highways, many of which passed through an alley of corn in Midwestern states like Kansas. It was boring, but it was our first date, and those cornfields will forever remind me of taking risks, throwing caution to the wind, going the unconventional route, and following your heart. From those cornfields I learned to let go, trust the Universe, and love again.

The World's Craziest First Date with Brittany May
The World’s Craziest First Date with Brittany May

I ended the year running my final marathon through the empty cornfields of cold, flat, gray Indiana. I would have much preferred it to be in sunny California, but the choices I’d made throughout 2014 had lead me back to Indiana to see friends and family for the holidays. Brittany had been living with me in California for two months and it was time visit home. I was introduced to Brittany’s daughter and we spent 3 weeks building forts, watching Christmas movies, doing arts and crafts, and reading books. Brittany also met my family and one cold afternoon we went out back next to the cornfields, now harvested and bare, and shot trap (Brittany shattered 3 clay birds…with her eyes closed!). As 2014 wrapped up we had a special New Year’s Eve party with Audrey, playing board games, painting our New Year’s Champagne (or sparking grape juice) flutes, and ringing in the New Year at midnight. As soon as the ball dropped Audrey passed out and Brittany and I sat quietly reflecting on the year. This visit to the cornfields was a new kind of adventure for me. This time I learned that living a life of solo adventure is all good, but the real joy of an adventurous life is sharing it with someone you love, and having the incredible opportunity to help instill the love of adventure in a child.

Hot coca after ice skating with Brittany and Audrey
Hot coca after ice skating with Brittany and Audrey

That is why 2014 was the year of the cornfield. Cornfields brought me life changes, self-examination, improved strength, and love. Looking ahead, for the first time in my life I have no set goals or plans. It’s scary, and honestly, incredibly stressful. But every day, Brittany and I wake up and spend a few minutes sharing our insecurities about our future, the path of most resistance, and living the unconventional life. I believe that anything that is easy probably isn’t worth doing anyway. We want crazy, we want different, we want wild. We don’t know where we’re going, but we know that the journey really is the destination. So, wherever 2015 takes us, we’ll go, enjoying every step of the way, living life to the fullest.

Happy New Year!

6 Comments

  1. Loved this dude. Keep leaving life on your terms. Inspiring more people than you know along the way.

  2. Great post Chris! Your 2014 journey is an inspiration for those of us on the edge of making major changes in our lives! Hope 2015 is everything you want it to be and more!

  3. Barbara"Mamaw B" Allen

    Really enjoyed the article. I am envious. Thought I was getting close to being “free” but roadblocks have set me back. Thanks but you have inspired me to look at my current position in a different light. I love you Tarzan. Keep writing.

  4. You know what they say back in Indy, “You can move to the big City, roam the a open highways, ride the waves, play on the beach, but, you’ll never leave The Farm!” It was one memorable 2014, sharing many trails together, and those freaky, memorable moments in the Cornfields of The Burning River! ‘Yep, little by little, step by step, I believe that Tarzan is FINALLY getting his “Life Together”, through the Good, Bad, and the Beautiful. It’s definitely Fantastic being an “honorary” Clemens.
    La Mariposa

  5. Greg Amstutz

    I just wanna say that you inspire the shit outta me man. Ive followed some on Facebook and see your adventures, often jealous, lol. Keep up the freedoms and joys of life man, you are truly living life, and u inspire me to do the same. Thank you

  6. Mr. Clemens.. dramatic and moving. Well-written and fun to read. Quite a journey you’ve been on, and it makes me happy for you that you’re still continuing to learn and grow. I was especially captured by your realizations the last 20 of your 100miler and the full circle with the cornfields. Such a beautiful agricultural metaphor that can be both limiting and liberating.. and it’s eye-opening to read your accounts from both ends of that spectrum. Keep it up. There’s a lot of people out here cheering you on.

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