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.
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.
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.