Around 20 million years ago the ground below what is now San Luis Obispo was perforated by volcanic vents. These vents allowed for the passage of magma to the Earth’s surface and around that time magma began to congeal below softer rock at the surface. Over the following eons, the softer rock was eroded away by the powerful forces of wind, water, and dirt. To our eyes today, after millions of years of erosion, these volcanic plugs, as they are called, appear as rugged mountains known as the Nine Sisters. The tallest Sister, Bishop Peak, is now a silent sentinel over the city of San Luis Obispo. This peak has become a favored training ground for me during my time here in San Luis Obispo attending Cal Poly. It has become so special, in fact, that it has transcended the simple moniker of ‘training ground,’ I would venture to say that it is a form of church for me, a sacred place. The mountain’s jagged profile and jumbled, razor-sharp igneous rock provide for a trail system that is quite brutal. Running laps of this mountain in a continuous session, tagging the peak two or three times, will usher you into a transformative pain cave. That brutal simplicity is why this peak has sanctity, in my eyes.

The reverence that I have for Bishop Peak leads me to want to share its fierceness with others. So when Calvin, a friend of mine, reached out to me asking to go on a run I wholeheartedly agreed, telling him that we would be running Bishop, more than once. As we progressed up the mountain he was awed by the beauty of the place: the oak woodland that rings the base, the dense chaparral the trail cuts through midway up, and the chaotic rocks piled at the peak. The crisp morning air and fresh mud from the week’s rains made for a classic Central Coast in the winter run.

Shortly after beginning our second lap Calvin asked, “What do you want to do?” The question, simple as it was, was not directed at whether we should run another lap or not. Instead, the question, having been preceded by a conversation on Calvin’s life plans and goals, was directed at my personal life plans and goals. To answer, I took a long and circuitous route, much as I do in running through the mountains.

Views from the Peak, looking out towards Cerro San Luis Obispo.

Views from the Peak, looking out towards Cerro San Luis Obispo.

When I was in middle school my Tuesday’s were always marked by two things: a Boy Scout meeting and MythBusters. Around 6:30 in the evening my mom would drive me to Holy Trinity, a local Catholic Church where the meetings were held, and I would hop out to spend the next hour and a half hanging out with my friends. We would always begin the meetings, for the first half an hour or so, by playing some sort of game, capture the flag or something similar. The rest of the meeting was spent learning some new skill, practicing one of the many tenets of Boy Scouts, or working towards our next merit badge or rank. After the meeting, my mom would drive me home and I would typically beg her to stay up later than usual, for my bedtime was always immediately following the meeting, and watch MythBusters.

Now, MythBusters held a special place in my heart. MythBusters, If you have never heard it, was a show, when I watched it, hosted by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman that tested myths and urban legends to find out which were confirmed, plausible, or denied. Both Savage and Hyneman came from a film special effects background and had a deep knowledge of building in multiple disciplines. This allowed them to be both storyteller and investigator, because they explained the myths, built the machines and equipment necessary to test them, and then performed the experiments, sometimes even to their own personal harm. This multi-faceted approach to each episode drew me in and captured my fascination each week.

As middle school is a period of massive growth in a person’s life, I was deeply shaped by MythBusters. Every week that I sat down and watched that show I was continuously captivated by a singular impression that I got of Adam Savage: he was a Renaissance man. To me, a Renaissance man is someone who knows much and does much but, more importantly, someone who continuously searches to know and do more. That impression has stuck in my mind ever since and, as such, was what I ultimately answered Calvin’s question with that I, in all honesty, want to be a Renaissance man.

As my life has progressed since those formative years watching MythBusters I have worked hard to form myself into what I consider to be a Renaissance man. That drive is a large part of the reason why I have my hands in so many varied interests and endeavors:

  • Touching the Trail

  • Target Release Recovery

  • Writing for magazines on endurance/adventure, nutrition, and spirituality

  • Creative writing

  • Art (creating and studying)

  • Cinema (viewing and analyzing)

  • Books (both fiction and non-fiction, particularly enjoy science fiction, history, biography, and science books)

  • History, with particular passions in:

    • Civil War

    • World War II

    • Religious history

    • Fall of the Roman Empire

    • Early Modern Period

    • and much more

  • Science, with particular passions in:

    • Astronomy

    • Astrophysics

    • Chemistry

    • Scientific history

    • and much more

As you can see my passions and focuses reach into many aspects of our world. Through this variety and through MythBuster’s influence I have come to realize a truth that I believe most people miss in our society today: you are complex. What I mean by this is that your character is not defined by one, singular aspect. You are not a mother, father, doctor, runner, addict, fan, Republican, Democrat, or Christian. While those external identifiers may play large, impactful roles in your life you must remember that they are not you. When you realize that you are both constantly evolving and wonderfully complex you will come to understand that you are much more than one or two labels. As my grandmother used to say, “If everyone was the same it would be a very boring world.” By not exploring your complexity you are not realizing your individuality. By understanding this truth you will free yourself to pursue the life that truly fulfills you by better understanding what you truly wish to spend your time doing. Our only true currency is time and if you gamble it all away recklessly doing things that drain you or that you hate you will regret the life you live. But, if you put in the work to learn yourself on a consistent basis your life will begin to expand in ways you had never imagined before.

By not exploring your complexity you are not realizing your individuality.
  1. You can never truly, completely know yourself: Some of the passions I listed above, like art and cinema, arose in my life only very recently and I never would have expected for me to identify those as passions before. However, now that I do, now that I have found and acknowledge their potential in my life, I recognize the positive power that they hold for me. What I am saying is that we never know what is to come and we never fully know what is within each of us. As such we must enjoy the journey because it is simply the trail that we walk throughout our lives and it is our responsibility to walk it true to ourselves.

  2. Delve within: No one else has the answers. No one else can tell you what does or doesn’t fulfill you. As such, you must go within yourself and the best way to do that is to meditate. Meditation teaches your mind and your body to stop, take a breath, and listen. In our fast-paced, hectic world that is one of the most vital tools of self-transformation that we too often ignore: listening. The more that you can stop, breathe and listen to your mind, watch the watcher if you will, the more you will understand the workings of the machine that is your mind because you begin to view it from a new perspective.

  3. Get out of your comfort zone: There are two aspects to this piece of advice.

    1. Suffer: The more that you can place your body in the pain cave, the more you can grow. The transformative power of pain is unparalleled and you have the opportunity to harness it if you only push yourself out of your comfort zone on your next run, ride, swim, or whatever you may do. Your daily training sessions are not simply opportunities to prepare for your next race or challenge, but also opportunities for growth through discomfort. Discomfort strips away the layers and allows you to glimpse your truest self, thus allowing you to learn.

    2. Don’t be afraid to try new things: This may be cliche, but it is true. If you close your mind off to new experiences you will never be able to test new aspects of what does and doesn’t fulfill you.

  4. Be honest with yourself: While, ideally, there are people who surround you that guide, support, and advise you, ultimately the only person who can tell you how to live your life is you. If you work to acknowledge what fulfills you, what you wish to put your time into, you will strip away what negatively impacts you. By doing so you consistently refine your life to be a vehicle for your personal happiness, instead of for a personal hell.

As you go forward remember that these steps are not magic keys. You will not turn your life around for it to become the life you truly want nor will you find what fulfills you overnight. As I said before this is a constantly evolving process that you must be willing to put the work into. It may scare you, but that is the point. Life has never been fully sunshine and roses, but it is your responsibility, not for me or anyone else but for yourself, to live the life that truly fulfills you. By walking that trail you face that fear, that discomfort, that sadness, and that joy and it allows you to evolve into something better, something tougher, and something truer.


Jarod Contreras

Call for comments:

How will you acknowledge what fulfills you and remove the toxic aspects of your life, consistently?

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