Perspective Through Climbing: Ditching The Flip Flops

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Sitting on top of the ridge, in the sun and next to an oak with thick, beautiful green moss at its base.  The moss is flowing into a puddle under my feet and onto the rock I’m leaning against, this grey sandstone wall that is slowly melting down over the hillside… and rays of sunshine are streaming toward the yellow and brown leaf carpeted forest floor.  It’s beautiful.  I love to stand on moss barefoot, especially when my feet hurt.  Right now my feet hurt.  I just finished hiking up barefoot in a last-minute decision to ditch the flips flops on the roof of my car.  Conflicted about something else entirely I’m standing there, mid-step trying to decide if I should walk up barefoot.  I’m here to figure stuff out so, start by being grounded.  Awareness.  There aren’t too many things that bring awareness of surroundings and self to the forefront like walking through the woods barefoot.  Everything is slower…quieter…smoother.  The wet leaves and roots are now my friends, while the jagged bits of rock on the trail that used to provide traction are now just like that acorn you can’t see under that pretty red leaf, painful.  I had a bit of tunnel vision on the trail until now.  Focusing only on each step and not really paying attention to my surroundings.  Each placement is specific trying not to step on the things that hurt and still stumbling at times on seemingly small stones.  Then I hear loud crashing through the canopy.  The Wind rushes above in a torrent of white noise thinning the trees of dead limbs and showering acorns all around.  As I am stepping over a large downed tree, a limb falls just on the other side.  Interesting how Nature can reveal a lesson if you are open to it.  Don’t focus so much on the little things.  There is a lot more going on around you to experience.  Kicking it out of the way and letting out a quick, “Whooop!”, I start having fun trying to speed up.  Getting into a rhythm dogging limbs and stones on the path.  Walking weird.  Like an orangutan with its arms in the air, constantly shifting weight and trying to keep balance on the sharp parts.  Awkward and probably hilarious looking, at least that’s how it felt, and it felt pretty great.  The trail is changing and the sharp little stones have been replaced by sand.  I am getting close to the rocks now as my pace slows.  They welcome me as my feet are soothed by the trail.  The sand is a little wet, soft, and cool.  Now I am stopped at a “Y” in the trail, digging my toes into the sand and trying to decide which way to go.  I am here to find the “how” in something and here is, what I should have been thinking about facing me on a trail.  The “why?”  I immediately turn right and head up hill for the top, for the sun.   I am in the breeze now at the top of the ridge and standing on a warm rock in the sun.  This place affects me so,… “I’m glad my flip flops are on top of the car…I might make this a habit.”…   Which brings me back to why I’m standing on moss with tender feet.

Here I am, about to instruct a climbing class in which I want to start off talking about the mind and focus on intent…, and I am a little upside down and sideways lately.  Not focused.  Not centered.  Only aware enough to know I’m not aware.  Here I am.  Here I am…this place where I find quiet on the rock.  How do I teach with the passion necessary to convey the importance of Mind, Body, Soul to others when inside I am not feeling aware or centered?  If I am neither of these, how can I share that space with others?  How do I teach a centered soul is the focus when I struggle so very much at times?  Time to climb and see what I can see.
Time to circuit.  Time to climb.  We’ll pick up here in a bit…

…A bit time later…

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Picking up where I left off on paper in a new space.  Here I find myself atop an unfamiliar wall, in a somewhat unfamiliar place, having been lost at times and then finding my way.  I’m traversing the Horse Pens Boulder now and working through a low offwidth crack.  Something I couldn’t do last time out.  I want to share that with somebody.  But not today.   Not this day of sitting and climbing and writing.  In contact with the rock the entire time.  Contact.  Touch.  Being in this moment.  Hmmm…Aware.  Rest in the moment.  Body position.  Breathing.  Oh man.  “Where is my mind?”  No where.  “Where am I now?”  I’m just on this rock down around the corner now.  Toes on bits.  Fingers on bits.  Just trying to hang on and live with intent.  I get it now.  The last one hundred feet simply happened.  I don’t remember the moves.  They just happened.  I was in the place doing what I Love and everything fell into place.  Time to write.  This is as good a place as any, so I start moving to the top and take my pack off.  Sitting on the edge with my leg over the side and leaning against the perfect rock, I’m pulling out my notebook and laughing at myself…

So here I am once more, in the place I have been finding so many answers.  How do I teach and convey with passion when I don’t feel centered and aware?  Sometimes my ability to overcomplicate astounds me.  It’s always so simple and that’s why I’m laughing.  The very first thing I want to discuss in class is Mind and intent.  Why do you want to climb?  Why are you here right now?  What is your intent?  Whatever that is, be in that place.  Pretty freaking simple, I know.  Why do I want to climb?  Why am I here right now?  What is my intent?  The last two questions rang in my head as I stopped mid-step trying to decide about wearing flip flops.  Why am I here right now?  Trying to be grounded, to learn.  What is my intent?  Learn by paying attention, being aware.    As I stopped and smiled, walking back to the car with flip flops in hand to put them on the roof, I tucked those three questions in the back of my mind regarding climbing and this class I am teaching.  At the end of the day, after letting the questions gestate and trying to whittle my reasons down to the simplest truth of each, I feel better having understanding but embarrassed having lost sight in the first place.  Love, Love, Love.  Why do I want to climb?  Because it is my my Passion and I Love it.  Why am I here right now?  Because Love made it possible.  What is my intent?  To Love.  Hmmm…Interesting answers.  ‘Cause I’m not feeling it right now.  There are still parts of me that are not feeling that Agape, that Peace.  I am still a little tumultuous.  But then…I guess, when would be a better time?  I know exactly how it feels right now to practice awareness and focus on intent in a state of confusion.

So what have I learned?  Most importantly the reminder of Love.  Love is selfless and I have been given the opportunity to share it, and that’s where the excitement comes in.  It’s the excitement that spreads like wild fire when you just shake your head, laugh, and share it.  Simply doing the thing you are Passionate about and Love to do and sharing it with others.

I’d really like to make this all about climbing but today as it turns out it was about ditching my flip flops on the roof of the car, and going for a nice barefoot stroll up the hill.

Perspective Through Climbing: Truth

In life we talk of many truths.  The truth of the situation.  The truth of the business world.  The truth of the way society operates.  The truth of politics.  The partial truths we all tell ourselves to deflect the authenticity of our actions.  In this age of consideration of feelings and political correctness, I’ve noticed a change in the use of the word truth.  The preface, “The truth is…”, has become common place in avoiding just that.

I recently had to take a step back from my normal day to day life and interactions to search for the truth in a situation.  Confused by vagueness and contradictions I struggled to probe into the truth of it all and spent a lot of time alone climbing at a local bouldering area.  Hunter’s Rocks is far enough away and expansive enough that it is possible to spend an entire day there and not run into another person.  And the climbing.  The climbing is wonderfully varied and challenging.  Ranging from both easy and powerful problems with only a few moves and long seemingly endless circuits, to 40′-50′ highballs at their tallest.  Two days ago I found myself wandering through the boulders searching for that wall of rock that would help me gain insight.  I eventually found myself  in front of my favorite short slab.  As I stood in front of it staring blankly, I was thinking more of the wall in the corner of my eye, at the end of the corridor instead of this place I wanted to be.  This comfortable zone of existence.  I’ve looked at this wall a lot.  I’ve walked up to it and even played around with the holds at the bottom on occasion but I eventually walk away every time, telling myself one or more of a myriad of reasons for not climbing it.  “It is too damp right now.  My feet will slip and I will fall.  It is too hot right now.  My hands are sweaty and I will slip and fall.  I’m not strong enough to make those moves and I will fall”.  It is not a tall rock, topping out around 15′-20′, but it is ominous to me.  The foot placements thin out.  The wall starts to pitch and looms over me instilling doubt.
But as I stood there, my mind preoccupied with trying to answer questions that are not mine to answer, I found myself in a familiar state.  It was too hot and I was sweating.  It had recently rained and the rock was damp.  I was tired.  “The truth is…”.  Ha.  The truth.  The truth of it at this time was as it had been every other instance I looked at this climb.  I was simply afraid.  It was easier to look at the conditions and use them to make myself feel better about walking away instead of facing the truth.  So here I stand.  Alone.  Facing this inauspicious problem.

I touch the rock and it is cold and damp.  I breathe with purpose.  Inhaling the honesty of where I am and how I feel, while trying to exhale the fear and inhibitions that glazed over the truth of it so many times before.  My first foot placement slips.  “It is damp.  You are going to fall.”  I re-position my foot on the rock and step up leaving the safety and comfort of the ground.  As I move higher the holds are not what I want them to be.  They are not ideal.  A little slick.  Too small.  The wrong angle.  All partial truths.  My body is tense and I become aware of my mind concentrating more on what has happened in the past and a manufactured future than where I am in this moment.  “That was a different time and place.  This rock is different.  I am different.”  I do not want to face this thing I am afraid of but I can not live a lie hiding behind the half truths of my discomfort.  This is where I am.  This is what is in front of me.  I close my eyes trying to concentrate on breathing and emptying my mind.  Trying to accept this place I am in.  I am still afraid but a very simple choice has to be made.  Do I allow this fear to take hold and cause me to fall or not?  No longer trembling, the irrevocable decision to climb this rock, face this truth, steadied my shaking spirit.  Every hand and foot placement from then on is precise.  Every movement fluid.  It is not because I am no longer afraid.  I am so very afraid.  It is instead because I am resolute in facing that truth of fear.  As I climb over the lip of the wall the anxiety and tension inside escapes in a bellowing echo along the corridors of rock, spilling over the hillside and dissipating into the expanse of the forest.  Standing atop a pinnacle above the canopy I can see all that surrounds me.  There is nothing to my left and nothing to my right.  Nothing to lean on.  Nothing to hold. I spread my arms wide and welcome everything that is in front of me while leaving behind the charade of circumstantial truth.

It is easy to live in comfort.  That is why we all lie in some way, either to others or ourselves.  Running away from the truth because it is hard.  Avoiding the thing in the corner our eye, our minds that would just be easier not to acknowledge.

Perspective Through Climbing

Part 1

I’ve been extremely off the past two plus weeks wrestling with my self esteem. Confused as to why some things were moving in the direction they were and allowing them to feed my Id. Sitting still in the moments out of fear while watching and listening to changes in patterns and trying to come to terms with the aspects of my life that were being affected. Obvious physical performances compounded with the mental strain of striving to talk myself out of it and looking at the situation with limited possibilities had left me… immobile.

Yesterday seems to be the day that perspective was once again gained. I went to a local bouldering area with a friend and proceeded to just follow him, slowly shutting down the mind. At first my movements and breathing were abrupt, choppy, unnatural, and shaky. A reflection of my state of being. My mind focused so intently on not falling, not failing and not performing that I could not see past it all to the truth of self. Over gripping the rock trying to hold onto the idea of strength over fluidity of movement.
As we circuited and climbed more and more highballs my thought process began to shift. The mind began to slowly recognize the necessity to relinquish it’s logic of what would happen WHEN I fell. An imaginary reality that had not happened and would not as long as the mind just allowed the body to be in the moment. The fear of falling and not being strong enough or good enough subsided. The ground, the ever present finality of failure faded away and became blurred and frivolous. And then it finally happened. There was no epiphany, no specific moment of clarity that opened my eyes just a simple quiet that flowed effortlessly through me and onto the rock.
I didn’t step through a doorway into this space of understanding. I was suddenly and simply just there. Flowing along the rock. Short moments of preparation for a move, purposeful breathing, focusing only on the movements within my bubble of existence and allowing the body to just be and the mind to see.

There are moments…, moments in this life where I have fallen short and wrestled with demons in some way…and every once in a while it piles up and can be very confusing, concerning, and disappointing for those around me. In those moments I’ve often asked for patience in this ebb and flow. Sometimes people will remain and sometimes, understandably, it is too much to ask. But then there is that catalyst that thrusts me forward. A reminder of my true self.

So. All of that to say this. When your demons are clawing at you and dragging you into the abyss, shift your focus from the failure of falling. Breathe and allow space for what is right in front of you and within your reach and allow your spirit to flow freely.

All things come.

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Part 2
It’s Not The Hard Stuff. It’s The Good Stuff

When I think of climbing, this thing I Love. This thing I am passionate about. This thing that has given me the opportunity to experience growth and amazement. Wondrous moments. Pure elation and calm of spirit in the connection. The excitement of Adventure, of the unknown, and how it fills me with vigor.
I often write of the ease of these moments and the clarity that is gained. The simple quiet that flows through me onto the rock.  I don’t know if you view climbing the same as I do or if you will even agree, but when I think of climbing it is all of the above and more for me.  What I don’t often talk about is the actual effort. How hard parts or movements are.  I don’t often think about the amount of effort, the hard work. The amount of training physically, mentally, emotionally. The pain. The broken fingers, cuts, the things that tear. These are just the bits in between.

Astroboy. Mount Gretna. A beautiful offwidth. You have to be a certain kind of person to enjoy this. Different from the majority. You have to be willing to put forth trust of who you are into this crack in the rock. This thing you just want to be a part of, the Diabase.  The rock glows in the sun as I walk up to it. Beautiful imperfections. Sitting next to it in golden leaves that blanket the ground. Smiling because I am a part of this beauty around me. It welcomes me as I look closer, deeper. Where I need to go. To the meat of things. I like to be in the sun when I climb. It feeds me, and as I look inside this problem it is closed off from the sun. But this is where it begins. This is where I must go to understand…
So I place my hand with closed eyes so I can feel where I am. It feels so good. It feels so solid and I stand. High fist and another jam. The further I go the harder it gets. Trying to spit me out. It widens below me taking away my feet. I have to press my knees bleeding with high hand and fist stacks. More energy. More effort. Every movement further in is harder than the last and worth it. Then it changes suddenly. I’ve gone as far as I can doing what I know. All of me hurts, My muscles are tired. I grunt from the strain. The voice in the back of my head is saying, “take a break and come back when you can do it”. As hard as it is, this is where I want to be. So, it hurts and is hard and now I’m on my side looking at the ground. A single hand. I try not to get pushed out as I search for that foot, that answer to this part of the puzzle I don’t understand. I can see the sunshine now as I hang upside down…the pain…reaching blindly out and up. Making the transition into the sun out of this place in the rock where I had to give so much, to be a part of it. Blood on the rock from my hands and knees, torn tape and jeans. I’m beat up and exhausted as I collapse on the ground, balled up like a child because every part of me is screaming, trying to just breathe…and then I turn my head and see. As the leaves flutter in the wind and the suns rays split through the trees, it is so simple. This is why it is worth it to me. It is beautiful. It is powerful. It is simple in its complexity and I enjoy the parts of me that come out when I give everything. I’m cut up. I’m beat up. Everything hurts as I stand  with a smile, …closed eyes, …and place my hand so I can feel where I am.
This is the part of climbing…the hard part, that I try to explain to people when they ask why I’m bleeding. I shrug it off and laugh because it isn’t the important part for me. I think of this amazing thing that I get to experience. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy the pain or the hard parts, to put it simply. But I understand that to experience the wonder and joy of something so amazing, I-you-we all need to work through the hard stuff. Facing what’s in front of all of us and knowing with everything we are, that the tough bits pale in comparison to the joy of connection with this place. This rock.

So there you go. It isn’t the hard stuff. It’s the good stuff.

 

12-15 May 2010

12 May 2010
11/81 Natural Bridge, VA
Leaving Vesuvius this morning, I was full of energy and ready to tackle the ride ahead of me. My legs then remembered that peddling was hard. So after a quick break only 3 miles into my ride, I regained my cycling legs and carried on. Dan, an older gentleman from Charlotte, North Carolina, told me about a natural rock formation called Natural Bridge. It was about 7 miles out of my way but I decided to experience it. When I arrived at the welcome center for Natural Bridge, I came to find out that it was a tourist attraction that you needed to pay to see. Interesting. A natural beauty that God put here, and people charge money to let others experience it. Hmmmmm. Doesn’t seem right some how. I decided to skip it and move on. Maybe I would get a glimpse of it from the road as I passed it by. No such luck. Whomever owns the property put up a 9 foot high plank fence so it wasn’t visible from the road. I understand the business end of it completely but money is nothing folks. A necessity to get us through this life we have put ourselves in.
So anyway. I have been leapfrogging all day with a group of cyclist that met each other years ago through various means and circumstances. They road on ahead to Buchannon and I decided to rest here in Natural Bridge for the night.
I have seen some of the most beautiful country side and farm houses on the trip so far. Reyanna and Cliff, sorry for the spelling of your name Reyanna, who own a horse farm on route 11 just outside of Lexington. The Virginia Military Academy was a great welcome to Lexington as well. Riding through the center of town re-energized me. I am pretty content with todays’ ride, even if it was only 42 miles. Todays’ ride was a good soul ride. I hope there is such a thing because I would hate to be the only one who has experienced it. A phrase in a song sticks in my head and brings me to tears as I push through a thunderstorm in the foothills smiling and letting go of one more piece of pain.
“You, shimmy shook my bone
Leaving me stranded all in love on my own
What do you think of me
Where am I now? Baby where do I sleep
One more memory gets closer to fading away and not bringing me to my knees.”
Artist: Kings Of Leon, Title: Closer
Unfortunately, I fear tonight may be one of the worst nights sleep I get. I am camping behind an Exxon in a perfect spot. The only problem being, there is a lot of traffic and I do not trust people. I have experienced nothing but good will so far on this journey but the closer I am to the “modern/civilized” world the more guarded I am. Hopefully it will be an uneventful evening other than the ridiculous storm I am watching roll in. Thunder and lightning and a crap ton of rain, Oh My!

15 May 2010
Christiansburg, VA
Where do I begin with Christiansburg? How about the arduous task of even getting here. Since I owe you a couple of days we’ll rewind a bit. 2 days ago was the beginning of yesterdays butt kicking. Still with me? If not I’ll give you a couple of seconds to catch up. ……. Okay. So it was my bright idea not to set up my tent the other night and just sleep under the large overhang of a closed down cyclist friendly store, during the storm. Cold. Wet. Loud. Good thing that did come of it was that I now know that the emergency thermal blanket really works. So after my wonderfully fulfilling 3 hours of sleep, I began my day leap frogging with a group I met the day before. I then met up with the group from Adventure Cycling. They were pretty cool people. Lee was from Whales. Joe was from Pittsburgh. There were several other people from varying places like Oregon, Canada, Norway, New York, and so on. All of them making the ride to Astoria, Oregon. All of us different. All of us sweating and aching and smiling from ear to ear. We all have our own personal reasons for making this journey but the general answer that is given is very simple, “I just had to do it”.
So the rest of the day consisted of what I would call slightly more hill then rolling. It was hot and I was tired and drinking more water to compensate for my lack of energy. Pretty soon, no water. Pretty soon feeling crappy. So, I pulled over to the first house I saw and relieved their outside faucet of about two gallons or so of water and took a nice 20 minute break. Oh, and for some of you medical freaks out there, some of the water came with me, duh. Anyway, I was feeling a lot better and just in time for a little gas station where I met 3 more cyclist from the group. Ummm, some guy, Brin and Abby. Yeah, I know. I then ate a hoagie and a chili dog and commenced the hardest part of the day. I could not believe it was getting harder with only 4 miles to Christiansburg. The entire next 3 miles were exactly like the next symbol, ^. Oh, except it did this too, ~. I had to walk probably a total of ¼ mile of the sixty I rode that day. It would also have helped if first gear was working as well. Kinda hard to do that in 2-1.
So the girls said where they all were camping and told me to join them. They’ve been talking about where they ride back home and stories about their days. Fun times. So, needless to say, I was the last one to arrive in town and couldn’t figure out where this church was. After about 15 people and several nods and drive offs, I was able to flag down a Fire Rescue Marshal. Kinda helpful. Then I rode up to an officer in the Burger King drive through. Couldn’t talk him into a Whopper but did get some really helpful information that led me to where I am now. I didn’t want to make an extra fifteen mile round trip back into town for a couple of things to back track right back out. Turns out, Roxanne, the pastors wife here at New Hope Church of God in Christiansburg, VA, is super cool. First they let me set up under their picnic area. Then she left the door to the church van open just in case the storm turned really bad. Then she told me to go ahead and stay in the visiting pastors trailer. Well, I slept with my tent because I was exhausted from the past two days of riding 120 miles on 3 hours. Don’t do that. I then woke up this morning rode over to the very nice fully furnished trailer and took a nice hot shower and washed some riding clothes in the sink. Awesome, awesome, awesome! I decided to stay tonight because I really wanted to go to church tomorrow and what better place then here. My simple prayer, “Please lead me on the path you want me to take Lord, and thank You”.  Repeating the words “Thank You” over and over until a smile crosses my face and there is peace.

Just An Entry to Some

12 July 2010
Pittsburg, KS
I met up with Aden a day and a half ago. He is the “Irishman from England” and has been riding for two years all across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Asia, and now the U.S. I would like to catch up to him but I am just not sure what I am going to do today. Yesterday was a 70 mile day. My legs are wasted and my back is pretty sore. I’ve noticed that if I keep it to no more than right around 50 miles then I am able to get up easier the next day. The other important aspect of keeping my miles low is keeping calorie use as low as possible. That is almost an impossibility but 20 less miles equals a whole lot less calories burned.
I am having a very hard time writing lately. It’s as if I just don’t give a damn. That is my feeling about quite a few things on this trip. It started in Chester, IL I think. They were nice people but it seemed to be more of a business opportunity then wanting to just help cyclists. I really want to run into someone again that is just interrested in being a good person without an alterior motive. I foresee Kansas being a hungry state. There do not seem to be many streams and lakes to fish.
12,13 July 2010
So I guess I met a couple that are just good people. I didn’t have to wait long it seems. I was just getting ready to leave Lincoln Park in Pittsburg, KS when I met Ryan and Megan. We said our hellos and had a good conversation. Ryan invited me out to their place if I wanted to go swimming and chill out for a bit. I really wanted to ride to Girard and take a nap so I could go night riding later on but the closer I rode toward their turn off, the hotter it became. I decided what the hell and called Ryan to double check the directions. It was a nice ride on somewhat loose gravel roads out there and then around the strip pit to their home. They live in a little community that was established by one man back in the 1960’s. There are old mining pits from the 1800’s that have filled with water and turned into ponds. The houses are all on the shoreline and have docks. The Red Fox Strip Pits is where I spent the next day and a half hanging out with some of the coolest and nicest people so far. Ryan is a psychology major and wants to specialize in counceling. While we were fishing and swimming at the dock, he made a kansas road runner lure for me and gave me a few small supplies to make more. Megan was in the army and spent some time in Iraq. She is now in school and pursueing an art major. She makes some very cool, earthy jewelry. I gave her a few fossils that would be perfect that I found in Kentucky. Ryan and Megan had some friends over and we all went swimming. They prepared and amazing meal. Shrimp Alfredo with stuffed mushrooms, and an amazing tasting balsamic salad with tomatoes, peppers, onions, pretty much everything I don’t normally like. I scraped the bowl. So after stuffing ourselves and good conversation, we all went swimming again. I was introduced to the dumbass tree but wasn’t able to swing from it because some kids stole the handle bars. However!!! Tonight before I headed out they took me to the magic school bus. One of the things that inspired me to do this, take this leap, this long journey inward, was the movie “Into The Wild”. Hence the magic school bus. It was dusk but we still had enough light to take pictures and for me to climb in and out of the windows and onto the roof, sit in what was left of the seat where a table once stood and close my eyes and imagine this bus in its hayday. You guys are awesome people. I will see you later. I am not sure when but you’re just a phone call away.

How I Started Climbing

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Visiting Alex and Kalyn years later in Big Thompson Canyon.

 

Two days in a row have I been asked, “How did you get into climbing, how long have you been climbing, and what do you like about it”. The answers given to each were laconic at best. While giving the polished over version of my reasons for climbing with hints toward it’s deep meaning, I began to delve internally into the significance of climbing for me and searched for a way to express it as honestly as I could.

It was a dramatic beginning for me and I would have it no other way. I was brought to my knees and my life reset so I could stand again. So I could truly learn calmness, understanding, peace, Agape, selflessness, and most importantly for me at the time- the will to live. I wanted to put myself in situations where there was a possibility of death so I had to try and live…or die in the process. Literally climbing over my obstacles because I didn’t know how to deal with why everything happened and why I was around…and at the time, I was okay with the outcome either way.

After a smile and a breath, I look up and smile again. “It started on a bike ride”. My Journey back to myself. As I rode through memories, there were mountains in my soul I was unable to climb, too overwhelming to confront. There was an emotional pain I could not overcome combined with a defiant hatred towards a God that allowed free will to crush me and eventually would not allow me to die. I was defying a “supposed” God to take me or explain why I was here.

I screamed off the side of mountains, “I’m still here!!! I must have a purpose! What is my purpose! All I have to do is let go, why won’t you allow me to let go?” No matter how many times I tested and questioned Him, (staring at my fingers knowing all I had to do is relax my grip and I would have the peace I wanted), there were no burning bushes or an omnipresent voice to assuage my torment. As my father once said in a sermon, “Rarely does God give us a billboard directing us.” It is through whispers and seemingly insignificant nudges that our path is shown to us. I continued to climb higher, more dangerous areas relentlessly trying to provoke His will into fruition to prove to me He was actually there and I had a purpose. I had determined if I was going to die it would be His choice not mine this time. He saved me for a reason; I just didn’t want to be saved at the time and was daring him to finish it.

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A freak out and die or not moment.  A refrigerator sized rock shifted while I was on it, forcing me to jump to a small ledge.  I have no idea how much time passed on that ledge.   Lyons, Colorado

I continued climbing and began to notice a quietness take over my soul. Lessons of mandatory calmness of spirit when my choices were to freak out and die or clear my mind and make it to the top, began to change my reasons for climbing. Slowly all of the hatred fueled by my pain transmuted into forgiveness, and the pain lessened. The negative energy in my life began to dissipate the more I climbed. It became a moment of solitude and meditation. A place I could go in my mind without distraction. It became a simple thing. My body, my mind, and the rock.  The obstacles that faced my spirit and my “real world” life were no longer these insurmountable obstructions that would determine my happiness or my path.

There is one specific period of time on my bike trip that lasted one day. During this day there was an hour and a half that opened my eyes to a real love of climbing and gave me a clearer image of my meaning. I was riding through Big Thompson Canyon on my way to Estes Park. The canyon is wonderful with tight granite walls and a river flowing with both beauty and power. I stopped at several points to climb mesmerized by the lines I could see and the faces in front of me. They were wonderful moments that were soon to be trumped by meeting two of the most important people on My Journey.

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Alex and I.  Estes Park, Colorado

I had already ridden into Estes Park but had to return to Loveland for a couple of supplies. As I made my way back up the canyon once more towards Estes, a pickup truck pulled off the road directly in front of me. So I stopped next to the driver’s window with a smile. People pulling there vehicles off to the side of the road to talk to me was fairly common, especially in Colorado. The conversation usually started with people wanting to know if I needed help, who I was, where I was going, why my back pack was so big and why on earth I was wearing a pack in the first place. This time however was different.

“David! I’m Alex!” This was a little weird. How did this person know me? “Oh yeah,” I thought, “must be the backpack.” Stories of my pack seemed to precede me. I obviously looked confused because he repeated, “David! I’m Alex,…from couchsurfing.” Alex and I had been trying to contact each other via a website for travelers but we never made any solid plans to meet because internet connections were few and far between for me and My Journey was amorphous and free of an itinerary. I finally put things together and realized who he was. Alex wasn’t even supposed to be there at that time. He was called into work for some odd reason and “happened” to see a fellow with a giant pack and a mountain bike. “I knew it had to be you man”, Alex said with a smile. I put my bike and my pack in the back of his truck, (even though he offered to lift them for me).  I learned that was usually easier because most people struggled to lift the bike, let alone the pack. After hanging out at his work for a short time we went back to his home where I met the love of his life and yet another beautiful soul, Kalyn. We talked and smiled for a while. Music, curiosities, prayer flags, and stories of the road filled a room already bursting with energy. They offered me warmth, a shower, dinner, and some evening climbing with gear. They asked if I liked fish. I smiled and simply stated yes and then began to bellow with laughter. “Hahahahahah!. I love fish. That’s how I have been feeding myself, by fishing”. We had a laugh, ate some fish, and then they took me to a spot I unknowingly rode past the day before.

It was a pink granite slab. Smooth, simple, beautiful, and steep. Alex led two climbs and wouldn’t tell me which one was harder or what they were rated until I finished. He wanted to see which one I thought was more difficult rather than instill any doubt. Alex was intrigued by how I climbed, no gear, with only a pair of pumas that rarely left my feet. The conversation, however, did not go as the rest did. Pure interest and acceptance without judgment. There was not much acceptance in my life at that time and a lot of opinion on what I should be doing. I didn’t speak often of my soloing and didn’t even know the term. It wasn’t a big deal to me. It was simply one of the ways I was coping with my demons. However, I was intrigued by their gear! This was the first time I was going to climb with a harness, shoes, and a rope! I couldn’t contain myself, “A rope? Climbing shoes? A harness? This is awesome!!! Climbing without the possibility of death is so much less stressful.”

As Alex belayed me, offering advice and asking if I was okay, (I do not speak when I climb), I noticed a change in how I felt on the rock. The crucial importance and intensity of every movement that I was used to diminished. I was safe. I could hear their encouraging words, and laughter. My mind began to shift from restrained emotions on the rock to expression and enjoyment. Relishing the movements, the sounds, the emotions and freedom of feeling safe. When I reached the top of the route I asked what I should do next. Alex replied with a smile and light in his eyes, “Brother. Look around and enjoy where you are.”  I tear up every time I think of this moment, and say the exact same thing to everyone that has climbed with me.

My entire trip thus far had been filled with amazing experiences that allowed me to not only understand joy again but also experience it without depression fueled guilt. It was at this moment that I understood exactly why God, Nature, this ethereal force had seen fit to keep me around for a while longer. Through Alex and Kalyn’s simple act of taking me climbing in an environment free of fear and full of encouragement; I realized my passion for climbing and how it fit into my purpose. The purpose I had been searching for so desperately.  I wanted to not only share climbing  with others but help those that were struggling to find their way as well.

Alex and Kalyn. I Love you guys with all of the purity of its meaning. I am forever indebted to you.

A Backpack Full of Memories

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No Waking Up

She thought she found someone to rescue her from her misery. She saw a man that could take her away from whatever she was running from and be able to live the life she wanted. She made herself into the woman he was looking for and always wanted. She listened to his heart, his words, his values and said what she needed to.
He thought he had found the one person he had searched for in vain his whole life. He thought he found the one person that he could love with all of his being and be loved, truly loved by her. Blinded by her words, smoke screens hiding the truth, half truths, and lies, he fell. Weak for her, what he thought was her, he could not see what everyone else saw. He didn’t heed his friends and family. He didn’t heed her family’s words. “They just don’t know her the way I do”, he thought.
As time passed his love for her grew stronger and was put to the test by her personality and traits slowly showing through. He thought, “She has just had a hard life. It’s not her fault. I can help her, love her, make her pain go away by showing her there is another way, a loving way”. He left his family and friends to be with her. He loved her.
Arguments arose out of nothing it seemed. Things were said to him, making him feel less than. Pushing, pulling his heart and his mind back and forth, all the while he is trying to convince her he was not going anywhere. He loved her. He was dedicated to her. It was never enough. Just as things were coming to a head, he finds out he is having a son. A life is growing and an even deeper love fills his heart. Her words and actions break him down further. Degrading him in public, embarrassing him, words in private that make his heart sink. She is a new mother, he thought to himself, it’s hard on her. So, I have to be even stronger now for the both of us.”
She had moments of caring sanity that tried to crawl out. It was a side he knew was there and with enough love would become stronger. He kept showing her the way it could be, what his parents had. Two people loving each other for each other, no matter what life threw at them. Those moments were fleeting as she controlled more and more of him. Beating down the man and trying to mold a source to supply her with her wants. His 60 hours weeks along with school and other jobs lasted for years.  “A man provides for his family. Honorable men do not complain.”  Repeating these phrases over and over looking for strength.

His friends wondered how he was, where he was. He was not allowed to contact them. “They don’t really love you like I do. Your family just wants to keep us apart. If you really loved me, you would only need me”.  Her words eventually turn him.  Phone calls home become rare and short. Hiding his calls to his friends and family when he is at work.
Her nights of questionable absence. Scared for her safety only to have her stumble in early the next morning with a barrage of misdirection and deflection.  Accepting her stories, as his questions are turned on him.  It hurt less than the truth.  She will change. Things will get better.  Love is stronger.
He now has two sons.  Beautiful and wonderful.  They are his strength.  He teaches them what his father taught him, what he remembers seeing while growing up.  Always do the right thing.  All the while his beliefs are slowly being buried.  He should have done something.  More nights of question and sleeplessness.

Finally he is able to give her everything she has ever told him she wanted.  Perfect house, perfect neighborhood, perfect school, perfect children, cars she always wanted, more of everything she wanted. He didn’t care about the money but he knew it made her happy. He thought it would help make her happy.  He thought maybe this will finally give her the chance to Love.
He is no longer necessary.  Strange phone calls, text messages, hidden conversations happen more and more.  Yet, hearing how hard her life is with the boys, he feels bad for her.  He Loves her.  She can see it.  He knows she just has to.  All the years of flowers and rose petal baths, candle lit bedrooms, were not enough but now she has the life she wanted.  Now it will all be okay.

He is told to leave.  He is told he is not a man.  He is a bad father.  He could never love her the way the other man can.  He could never be the father this stranger will be to his sons.  He wasted her life.  He is worthless.  Her eyes glare as the words spill out of her mouth like poison.  His heart dies. Slowly rising, with tears filling his eyes he asks her to please leave.  He can not bear for her to stand there watching emotionless.  Exhausted, sick to his stomach, crying, he sits on the floor unable to move. He stares at the walls for hours and days waiting to wake up. There is no waking up. There are no children laughing and playing, no sound of them running back and forth.  Daddy.  Sweetheart.  Honey.  I Love you daddy.  Good morning baby.  The words are now only phantom memories floating through the air of a quiet home and an empty heart.  He is left with nothing but the weight of this inescapable reality.  There is no light, no air, no reason.
There is no waking up.

This unimaginable discarding of the Love I thought existed between my wife and I, disintegrated my world.  The weight of my failure, as I saw it, grew with every moment that passed.  I failed her somehow.  Driving me deeper down was the unacceptable reality that there was nothing I could do, because it had nothing to do with me at all.  My Love was meaningless.  As the sadness amassed it pulled me further into depression, feeding itself, growing more and more powerful until my will for life finally broke.   Why was I not strong enough?  Why could I not deal with this intangible pain?  Why am I not strong enough?!  Why am I not strong enough?!  Why?!  Why?!  My mind wails these words over and over drowning out any sense of goodness left in my life.  I am pulled further down, unable to lift the weight of my soul.  I am a failure.  Please God remove this weight from my soul.

17 July 2010
Kansas
How can I not write about my pack, my burden-my needs-my failure from before.
They all think I’m nuts all this weight on my back “It’s harder you know, how do you do it, why did you do it” I smile not knowing exactly how to answer. Do I give them a witty response? Most people shy away from the sobering truth of things to occupy their minds with unimportant distractions. Short entertaining stories of adventure is what they crave. So that is what I give them. I paint over the truth with grand gestures, making them actors in my stories until, eventually, they feel a part of my experiences on the road. They laugh and ask questions that start to turn thin with boredom.

Now they too have a story, stranger on a mountain bike riding across the country with a huge back pack…

Black and radiating heat from the sun. It can hold no more inside its seams.
More weight is added strapped tight around it increasing the burden, increasing the weight
Bringing its bearer toward his fate
A tarp and tires, tools and a fishing pole.

…The stories are passed on.  Excited by attention the story teller compels the listeners to ask questions as the laughter thins with boredom.  Like kids around a campfire they ask for more stories.  Tell us more of this man.  Why is he doing it?  But they can’t you see.  They don’t know the answer, the truth of me.

The pole for fishing, tires for his bike
The tools for fixing and the rest I don’t know why.
Maybe all of these wrong.
They are only the glint on your sunglasses that keep you from seeing my eyes.
It is everything that should be nothing
The nothing that beats you to the ground
The nothing that makes you forget why you are around.
It is heavy, it is cumbersome, it stinks of memories and sweat
It slows my progress but I can not let it go yet
Without its weight driving me I would slip into the mud
I dig into every day dealing with its contents, most of which I wary of
A chance not to unpack it, if only for a day
Gives me peace in pretending it’s not there.

Nothing weighing on my body, my soul, my mind for a moment
I can breathe freely and stretch without its bindings that so reluctantly relinquish their hold on me
Standing back, cut away from this giant black tumor of memories and pain.  Starring at it as it began to speak adding yet another reminder
“Why take me off?  I will always be here.  Here for you.  I have food that will sustain you.  I can clothe you when the cold eats at you. You know you need me just like I need you.”

I glare.  I stare.  I yell at the pack on the ground and into the air.

I hate your logic, your manipulation of fact!  I can not argue, not now, not yet.  I need you for another reason you have not thought of yet.  Not even a brief consideration by you.  You will make me strong.  I am stronger every day and see even greater experiences pass me by due to your weight.  Yes.  You weigh me down, but not like you used to.  My body lying on the floor.  My soul strapped down no more.  You grow to compensate. Increasing the load, but you underestimated me from the start.  I chose to take you on

I decide what stays in and what comes out
You weigh more than the beginning because I am hauling you about
I’ve thought about leaving you stranded in your own helplessness but I am not quite done using your torment of me to make me stronger
I will carry more to remind me. It will be harder than before and I will handle it all
The pack sits quietly. I look down at it with a powerful knowing glare.
Quiet. No sound but a creak or a moan from the plastic buckles and nylon straps. I now stand freely with my pack on my back. Perhaps it is best I don’t try to explain the truth to these people. They wouldn’t understand what I live with every day.
That’s fine. That’s okay.
At least I know the difference
From before
First it was weakness
Caring, carrying too much
Now I choose to grow stronger from what I’ve had to do, did, and undone
So I ride a long disappearing road. Slipping into thin air thick with heat
I drink it in.  My lungs struggle to find oxygen in all the memories.  Not wanting to breathe any more because it’s so thick like trying to swallow down medicine that sits in your throat choking you with it’s healing power.  So I drink it in and swallow hard
Trying to disregard
The desert sand in my throat. Sweat pouring out of me like so many tears of a broken heart. I need to replace what I’ve lossed. Hot water flows into me. Hot like the sun that changed its worth.  It stares.  It glares.  This sun wears on me but not like the weight on my back.
So I ride and I climb.  defiantly hauling my back pack full of memories.